PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After authorities towed away at least 60 vehicles from an encampment in the Cross Levee/Columbia Slough in northeast Portland this week, KOIN 6 News followed along to see the damage to the area left behind.
The city told KOIN 6 News areas in Northeast Portland, including both Cross Levee/Columbia Slough and the Big Four Corners Natural Area have become increasingly problematic over the last two years.
In the last two months, the city said the number of inoperable cars and excessive trash has grown tremendously.
One of the tow truck drivers KOIN 6 News spoke with asked to remain anonymous because of how aggressive the people in this homeless camp had been toward them.
“There was needles all over the ground everywhere you look, there was a needle. We had collected several bags of needles. There’s thousands of car parts everywhere, torn apart. I mean, this is just a typical camp,” the tow truck driver said.
Police believe most of the cars were stolen, many were parted, and others were completely abandoned. There was also a broad range of vehicles including cars, trucks, SUVs, burnt out cars, boats and a semi.
The tow truck driver explained it’s hard work to move boats and cars without wheels. Plus, they had to excavate nine engine blocks found stuck in the ground.
“It’s a struggle because you feel bad for people who are dealing with homelessness. But you could see here; this is beyond that … This has gone into criminal activity,” Derek Carmon with PPB said. “Really it’s victimizing the people in the city.”
Portland police say people were stripping cars and chopping down trees as they built a private world in the wooded area. Authorities are still investigating how many cars found at the site were stolen.
“This would have been like a used car lot down here; 69 vehicles were requested to be towed,” Carmon said. “I would say the majority of them are stolen.”
Due to the size of the problem at the site, a full remediation will require city crews working full time for at least three weeks — meaning the city will have to pause operations at other high impact homeless camps.
“We’re very short staffed. But I think the mayor sees that and that’s why he’s created this coordination team to come out here and deal with these livability issues,” Carmon explained.
However, no arrests were made and only one person took up the city’s offer for shelter, as PBOT was on site offering services to everyone.
“You come out here, you clean it up, and shortly after they’re back to doing business and then you have to repeat that cycle,” Carmon said.
So far, the city estimates removing trash and vehicles at the Big Four Corners site has cost $30,000. While progress has been made, there are more vehicles left to tow and debris littering the natural area.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, the city said they won’t know the full extent of the project until they can begin working.
The city added “although this site is one of our high priorities, most Portlanders know that there are hundreds of campsites around town on any given day that need our attention. We are currently receiving approximately 1,800 campsite complaints through PDX Reporter and 311 each week. We are currently prioritizing Safe Routes to School routes and encampments near school properties, along with several other long-standing, high risk sites throughout city limits. Our hope is to complete a full site remediation before the end of September, before the rains begin and the ground becomes too wet for the heavy equipment needed for this project.”