As many as three dozen people have joined him, living and sleeping on the sidewalk along Southwest 4th Avenue to demand the city do more for the homeless.
The protesters say they have not witnessed much change from city officials, but they do see one thing all the time: rats—lots and lots of rats.
Rats have nested in Terry Schrunk Plaza across Southwest 4th Avenue from City Hall for several years. But officials and neighbors say the rat population exploded after Occupy camped in Lownsdale and Chapman squares near the plaza, last fall.
Sally Mayberry, spokeswoman for the U.S. General Services Administration, which maintains the federally owned plaza, says her agency has an “action plan” to deal with the infestation. Protesters say they witnessed GSA officials baiting rat holes this week.
The sidewalk in front of City Hall looks like a small version of Occupy Portland’s fall camp—but without tents.
Bicycle racks are covered in signs and blankets. About two dozen people share meals, sit on lawn chairs and rest on sleeping bags. Plastic food wrappers lie scattered between the newspaper boxes.
Across the street, rats could be heard rustling and squealing in the Terry Schrunk Plaza shrubs, and more than 20 could be seen during a short visit July 9.
Occupiers say they routinely see the rodents crossing 4th Avenue toward their protests.
“Do not blame Occupy,” says Michael Withey, a protest organizer. “We are not feeding the rats. They just had a bunch of babies. We didn’t help them.”
One protester, identifying himself as Charles, walks up a trail through the plaza bushes to where rats have dug half a dozen holes under the concrete slab. He says protesters relieve themselves around the dens when the city closes the public restrooms in Chapman Square at night.
“I’m not a biologist,” he says. “But I think they’ve been kicking it there for quite a while.”
But others link the infestation to Occupy’s arrival. Teresa Chrisinger, who lives in the Essex House Apartments at 1330 SW 3rd Ave., says she’s seen as many as six rats at a time during the day.
“I am no rodent expert,” says Chrisinger, who has walked by Terry Schrunk Plaza nearly every day for two years. “All I am saying is people camped, took over the parks, and now I see rats. Simple as that.”
Chrisinger was walking her dogs on a Sunday afternoon last month when she saw a rat approach a man sleeping in a pile of blankets in the grass.
“The rat went to the person’s bag, shoes, and was about to crawl onto the person’s head and blanket,” she says. “I threw a pine cone at it. Missed, but it ran away.”
Mayor Sam Adams confirms to WW he’s become aware of the rat problem since the Occupy camps. “Yes, we’ve had complaints,” he says—and tells people to contact Multnomah County Vector Control.
But county spokesman David Austin says officials there are fed up with the city sending the rat problem their way.
“We talked to the mayor before about rodent problems, when he allowed Occupy Portland to camp downtown and attract rats,” Austin says. “I’m sure the mayor recalls that our vector control services offer all residents advice about rats. But Multnomah County isn’t an exterminator.”