[Posted Friday, September 30, 2022]
The City office that clears unsanctioned campsites from public property says that it has prioritized removal of the camp under the viaduct on Hillsdale’s Bertha Boulevard.
The property where the camp is located is owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). Since April of 2021, monthly garbage and sanitation facilities have been provided at the site by the Hillsdale Assistance Team, a group of residents and business owners that provides aid to camp residents in addition to picking up trash and painting over graffiti. HAT has also used funds raised through donations to support homeless students at Wells High School.
Heather Hafer, spokesperson for the City's Street Services Coordination Center (SSCC), said in an email that people living at camps posted for removal are always given at least 72 hours’ notice before a camp is cleared. Apart from that notification, specific removal schedules are not made public for safety reasons, Hafer said.
Hafer's email also said that the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP), a unit of the SSCC that handles clean-up of unsanctioned camps, has been actively monitoring the Bertha Street camp for over a year, “but now the health and safety risks presented at this site warrant remediation. Additionally, the Mayor’s Office has been prioritizing Safe Routes to Schools and encampments located near schools for the past few months – and this site’s proximity to Wells High School increased its level of prioritization.”
According to Hafer, the SSCC has conducted outreach at the Bertha Blvd site to provide resources to the people living there.
In an emergency declaration signed by Mayor Ted Wheeler in March 2022, the SSCC is tasked with coordinating "outreach to unsheltered individuals, cleaning encampments and vehicle camping on public properties, connecting unsheltered individuals to shelter options including available private and public mass shelters and alternative sheltering sites, and facilitating access to and educating unsheltered individuals regarding available social services resources."
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Portland in the past few years that the City's response to homelessness has been cumbersome. To quote from the March 2022 emergency order, "the decentralized organizational structure of the City of Portland government hinders City programs and services’ ability to effectively and efficiently coordinate services to houseless Portlanders and to manage encampment impacts and vehicle camping." The mayor's emergency order was a bid to coordinate homeless and social services that were previously spread out among several city bureaus and the County. Post-March 2022 organizational charts show the SSCC operating in partnership with Multnomah County, under the purview of the mayor's office.
The Oregonian and other media outlets have reported that many homeless people have said they were not offered resources before their camps were cleared. Rick Seifert of HAT has concerns about the City's plans. “Unless PBOT and HUCIRP provide housing, those agencies are just squeezing the homeless balloon and ignoring a basic part of the solution,” he said. Members of HAT are hoping to work with the City and the campers to make sure that residents are offered housing before the camp is removed.
The SSCC also manages vehicle towing and will give direction to PBOT to tow any vehicles abandoned at the Bertha Blvd site, Hafer said. At this writing, there appeared to be one non-functioning car and a camping trailer at the site.
To learn more about the City's response to homelessness, go to the City's Street Services Coordination Center webpage. HUCIRP publishes weekly campsite reports with information about which campsites have been posted for removal or removed. Sign up to receive the weekly report here. To report concerns about a campsite, visit PDX reporter or call the City's Information and Referral team at 311. Learn more about HAT here, or stop by their "listening table," staffed many Sundays at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.
Let us know what you think.