Portland’s homeless camp cleanups ‘just Band-Aids’

Civic Affairs

Many Portland residents are still frustrated about camps spilling into neighborhoods

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Despite a recent city audit calling on Portland officials to better manage the cleanup of homeless camps, many residents remain frustrated by the current situation.

The audit released in March said increasing demand for cleanup services has pushed the city’s cleanup program past its capacity. The audit said the program needs to do a better job collecting data and communicating with residents who make complaints and homeless people in camps to be cleaned up.

Portland’s Office of Management and Finance said the city received 931 new reports during the week of July 22 identifying nearly 225 campsites. They also took 171 reports of people living in vehicles.

The office said it cleaned up 65 camps during that week; another 69 cleanups were planned for this week.

But complaints are still rolling in about homeless camps like those in the Johnson Creek area.

Residents have taken to social media to voice their concerns about the campsite under a bridge at Tideman Johnson City Park in Southeast Portland.

Others are upset about a camp near Southeast Foster Road and 58th Avenue. KOIN 6 News found several people with their belongings directly across the street on Gladstone on Thursday — just a day after city officials reported cleaning the homeless site at Foster and 58th.

Some residents said the city’s cleanup efforts simply aren’t fixing the problem.

“They are just Band-Aids,” said Tom Cheek of Southeast Portland. “I’ve studied different examples; New Orleans — 90% of their homeless are off the street right now and the research says get them a place to live.”

Others who pass through the area have noticed fluctuations in the problem depending upon the time of year.

“It’s pretty good in the spring, obviously, and then I see it getting a little bit worse and worse,” said Pat Broderick, who uses the trails near Johnson Creek. “The human defecation … smells a lot better now, but it’s kind of coming back a little bit.”

City response

Heather Hafer with the Office of Management and Finance told KOIN 6 News a cleanup took place Thursday morning.

“Staff visited the Tideman site this morning at 11:16 a.m. and performed a minor cleanup; however, this site had a low assessment rating and isn’t considered to be high risk,” Hafer said.

An app will soon allow residents to submit complaints and track their status, according to Heather Hafer with the Office of Management and Finance. The app is currently in a testing phase and there is no public release date yet.

In the meantime, the public can track cleanups and statistics online.

Week of July 22-28 campsite report

Hafer said the new storage center where belongings collected during homeless cleanups are taken is bigger and easier to access by public transit.

“One thing to keep in mind is that this is a huge program with a tremendous amount of need, and there are only three full-time dedicated staff to manage this program that receives up to 1,000 complaints each week,” Hafer said.

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