[Posted Thursday, December 15, 2022]
Increasing numbers of unsanctioned homeless camps around the city have been cleared in recent months under new initiatives from Mayor Ted Wheeler, including Hillsdale's most visible camp on Bertha Blvd. As of Friday, December 9, both sides of Bertha Blvd were cleared and concrete barriers installed.
The site before it was removed by the City. Photos courtesy of Rick Seifert.
The photos above show the site cleared and concrete barricades installed. Photos courtesy of Rick Seifert.
Multiple city agencies are involved in clearing camps. The decision to clear a camp is made by the Street Services Coordination Center (SSCC), which falls under Mayor Wheeler's direction. Once the SSCC posts a camp for removal, another city department, the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP), conducts outreach to refer camp residents to services and then carries out the actual removal of garbage and any personal items that remain.
City spokespeople confirmed that this was the process that was followed in clearing the Bertha Blvd camp and said that the action followed "several months of continued outreach and referral to those living there."
The sheltered spots under the Bertha Blvd viaduct have long hosted the occasional tent or sleeping bag, but in late 2020 the situation changed. More people moved in, bringing RVs, camping trailers and other vehicles, generating garbage and human waste as well as an increase in police and fire department visits. Nearby residents reported disruptive and violent incidents and at least one person has died in the camp over the past two years.
In September of 2022, the City acknowledged that the camp had been prioritized for removal under the mayor's initiative to clear unsanctioned camps from areas near designated "safe routes to school."
No new campers have taken up residence under the bridge in the week since the clean-up, however multiple campsites have been observed in Stephens Creek Nature Park between Bertha Blvd and Capitol Hill Rd and have been posted for removal. According to policies posted on the HUCIRP web page, once notification has been made the camp is removed in 72 hours to ten days.
Concrete barriers were installed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which owns the land on either side of Bertha Blvd under the bridge. The barriers will likely prevent vehicles and trailers from moving in, but may do little to deter tents and other temporary shelters.
City officials' plans to eliminate unsanctioned camping are still a work in progress. As plans are underway to create up to six camps with as many as 250 residents each, the Safe Rest Village program continues to operate two sites with a third ready to open when a contractor to run it can be hired. Three more are in the permitting process. In the meantime, the number of camps removed has increased dramatically over the past several months—the City reports that almost 300 camps were removed this past October compared to 29 over the same period last year.
When asked if the City planned any steps other than the barriers to discourage or prevent new campers from moving in, a representative from the mayor's office said, "We’ll be continuing to closely monitor the area."
Hillsdale Assistance Team Initiatives
Since its founding almost two years ago, the Hillsdale Assistance Team has raised over $5000 from donations and a benefit concert held at the Josh Kadish Community Stage in September of 2022 featuring Peter Sansom and Hester Carr.
In addition to past donations to Wells High School, HAT recently granted $500 each to Markham Elementary School, Rieke Elementary School, Robert Gray Middle School (RGMS) and Ida B. Wells High School to support homeless and housing insecure students enrolled there. At Robert Gray the funds will be distributed in the form of gift cards to two homeless families to purchase bedding and clothing. "Agencies like HAT, who offer support during the winter months, are such an encouragement for those who struggle," said RGMS Counselor Laureen Held.
HAT also also paid the monthly fees for a dumpster and porta-potty at the Bertha Blvd site to address the issues posed by the human waste and garbage generated by campers. Now that no one is living there those facilities will be removed.
The SW Faith Coalition, an offshoot of HAT, consists of about 10 faith institutions. The group has been meeting monthly, said Katy Rustvold, Neighborhood Ministries Coordinator at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, to work on issues including homelessness in SW Portland,
HAT founder Rick Seifert would like to see a Safe Rest Village built in Hillsdale, modelled after the one currently operating at the Sears Armoy site in the Multnomah neighborhood. The homelessness problem, Seifert says, "is beyond the scope of the city or even the state and is about much more than homelessness. One thing I’ve learned from HAT’s involvement in this issue is that the best you can do is help one person.”
Thoughts, comments, suggestions? Let us know.