PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When the Lan Su Chinese Gardens re-opened after their pandemic-related closure in 2020, there were homeless camps surrounding all the sidewalks around the garden in Old Town.
Now, for the first time in 21 years in that location, they’ve had to hire private, armed security.
Executive Director Elizabeth Nye told KOIN 6 News they have had consistent break-ins, their staff often threatened both verbally and physically and drug use on the plaza is prevalent.
“When I just think about how much time our staff spends mitigating what we’re experiencing, the graffiti removal almost daily, our staff is out every morning picking up the trash all over our sidewalks,” Nye said. “They’re repairing front doors that are damaged by people hitting them with rocks.”
All of that led to the expensive decision to hire armed security. That decision comes at a time when their membership is down 50% because people don’t feel safe coming to visit.
“It’s the first time we’ve had to do that in the history of the garden,” she said.
“I think the other thing we’re concerned about is the state of everybody in this community. The mental health issues, the behavioral health issues, the psychotic episodes we’re seeing. It’s aggressive, it’s erratic, it’s random. We don’t know what we can do to keep ourselves safe.”
They’re not alone.
Other businesses in Old Town told KOIN 6 News that violent crime has gotten out of hand here in the last year.
On Thursday the University of Oregon said they’ve increased safety measures for their Portland campus.
Nye posted a “special message” on the Lan Su Chinese Garden website alerting customers about a “temporary solution” to deal with the “rising safety concerns” in the area.
“We started to keep the garden front gate closed during business hours. No worries, we are NOT closed to the public. What has changed temporarily is the procedure for visitor entry,” the website message reads. “For now, visitors and members will be asked to check in at the ticket booth and will be buzzed in once their admission purchase is completed.”
Asked if Portland city leaders are failing, Nye sidestepped a direct answer but said more needs to be done.
“The situation in Old Town requires a level of urgency that I haven’t seen yet,” she said.
Officials with PPB told KOIN 6 News they currently staff Old Town more than any other part of the city with patrol and bike officers and other personnel.
“But we have to be honest with our community about our limitations right now. Our critical staffing shortage means that officers are going call-to-call throughout their shifts and it’s rare to be able to do proactive policework right now. As of today, Central is -11 for staffing for the Precinct. We are maxed out currently on our deployment of officers in that area,” the statement said. “We cannot meet the demand for our services and have to prioritize our resources.”