Portland pilot program removes waste from RVs of houseless

Civic Affairs

Pilot program will continue through June

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A pilot program initiated last week by the City of Portland aims to provide sanitation services for people who are houseless and living in RVs rather than clean up the illegal discharges.

The program from the Bureau of Environmental Resources, modeled after a similar program in Seattle, will continue through June, officials said.

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There are a number of people living in RVs parked along Portland streets and they have limited ways to dispose of their waste. Officials said waste is often discharged into the street or a storm draim that can lead to the city’s waterway.

Last Friday, crews took care of the waste from 9 RVs in three regions of the city, officials said. The goal is to service about 20 vehicles each day, which should be able to collect about 7500 gallons of wastewater.

As the pilot program continues, crews will put together regular routes.

“We will continue to provide this service on a regular route every Friday and then as needed during the rest of the week,” said Diane Dulken with BES. “One of the things we have to learn is how often is return service needed so we have learning to do as well as providing this service.”

Crews “will also make minor repairs to make sure pumping can be done reliably and safely,” she said.

Environmental Services Director Mike Jordan said the houseless are among the most vulnerable.

“As the City creates longer term housing options, this pilot helps address an immediate sanitation need and benefits our entire community,” he said.

City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said he was proud of BES for seeing the need “and providing services in a respectful, dignified way for our houseless community as well as protecting our rivers and waterways from human waste.”

This pilot program, with a budget of $10,000, is one of the efforts the city is making to address the homeless issue, along with the Portland Street Response Team. The city also has emergency hygiene stations for the houseless.

“The city as a whole we are trying to figure out different strategies short and long term,” Dulken said. “The city has also established 100 hygiene stations around town for people who are camping and are in need of hygiene services and there are other efforts as well.”

Maureen K., who spoke with KOIN 6 News weeks ago about parked RVs in her Southeast Portland neighborhood didn’t know about this program but thinks it’s a good idea.

“Help for people living in RVs is appropriate—no one should have to live like this,” she told KOIN 6 News on Monday. “There’s an urgent need for many more programs to address the scale of this humanitarian crisis and the public health and safety implications of it.”

Dulken said this program has a specific need for a specific group, “and that is people living in RV’s who have trouble accessing disposal stations. We are delivering that service to them to protect the environment and meet a sanitation need.”

Just last week, one person and a dog were killed in an RV fire in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, according to Portland Fire & Rescue.

An RV burns along the side of the road around SE 110th and Foster, February 27, 2021 (Courtesy: Sean M. of Portland)

Crews arrived to a fully-engulfed vehicle behind the Shalamar Apartments on SE Powell Boulevard around 2 a.m.

In the City of Portland the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program has no involvement with vehicles.

In a statement to KOIN 6 News on March 2, a city spokesperson said, “If campers living in vehicles are breaking any parking violations it should be reported to PBOT. Otherwise it’s legal to camp in vehicles in Portland. If people report garbage around vehicles, HUCIRP will respond to that and pick up garbage – but we don’t have any involvement in the actual vehicle.”

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