Reversing his plans because of a legal threat from homeless advocates, Mayor Charlie Hales has agreed to delay sweeping homeless camps from East Portland's Springwater Corridor bike trail for another month, until Sept. 1.
The mayor's spokeswoman says the delay was forced by the threat of a lawsuit by homeless legal advocates at the Oregon Law Center.
As part of a formal agreement signed with the Oregon Law Center, the mayor is giving social service providers more time to reach homeless people, particularly those with disabilities.
The city also agreed not to enforce the camping ban on the corridor until then.
A sweep of the Springwater Corridor, where as many as 500 people are living in one of the largest homeless encampments in the nation, was previously scheduled for Monday, Aug. 1.
"The agreement identifies an extension to Sept. 1 in order to avoid suit," the mayor's spokeswoman Sara Hottman acknowledges.
Hottman declined to provide a copy of the agreement, referring the reporter to the city's public records system.
"I know neighbors to the Springwater are dealing with very real problems, and I hope that initial steps now and a major cleanup in one month will balance our need to treat people humanely, with our need to restore the Springwater to a public asset," says Hales in a statement.
The mayor's press release fails to mention the lawsuit but mentions an agreement with the Oregon Law Center.
Update at 5:55 pm: Here is the full memorandum of understanding between the mayor's office and the Oregon Law Center.
The memorandum shows that the city agreed to delay the sweep until Sept. 1 after a July 22 demand notice filed by the Oregon Law Center, threatening the possibility of a lawsuit.
The memorandum says that the Law Center filed the demand letter in U.S. District Court on behalf of 11 people living along the Springwater Corridor.
The agreement also requires Hales' office to post notice of the Sept. 1 sweep on Aug. 1, and to begin preparing a city-sanctioned homeless camp at Southeast 104th Avenue and Reedway. That property, known as the Kalbrener site, was discussed last month in The Portland Mercury.
The city is allowed to start picking up unclaimed garbage now, and can increase police patrols of the bike trail to crack down on crimes.
Here is the mayor's full statement.
Mayor Charlie Hales today announced that the major cleanup planned for the Springwater Corridor will be postponed until Thursday, Sept. 1, in response to social service provider, advocate, and disabled individuals’ requests for more time to relocate.
Mayor Hales on July 15 announced that homeless campers would be cleared from the Springwater Corridor, in response to urgent public safety issues and environmental damage in the area. The City-County Joint Office of Homeless Services planned for two weeks of intensive outreach — budgeting for additional outreach resources on the corridor — prior to the Aug. 1 cleanup.
During regular check-ins, social service providers have informed the Mayor’s Office that they needed more time to reach more vulnerable people on the corridor. Advocates met with Mayor Hales and, while many of their requests were already being addressed, they also asked to allow people more time to find someplace else to go. The Oregon Law Center told the mayor that their clients — people who are homeless and with disabilities — could not reasonably pack their belongings and relocate in just two weeks.
“Cascadia’s Housing Outreach Team has been working closely with the Mayor’s office and many other community partners to provide intensive outreach to the folks along the Springwater Corridor over the past two weeks. Although there has been significant outreach made, addressing mental health, addictions and housing needs for these individuals while appropriately connecting people with services is crucial and not something that is accomplished overnight,” said Derald Walker, president and CEO of Cadcadia Behavioral Healthcare. “The extension to allow for more outreach will be invaluable for the health and safety of our clients, and all Portlanders.”
Through negotiations with clients represented by Oregon Law Center, Mayor Hales has pushed the major Springwater cleanup date out one month. The City and Oregon Law Center clients signed a formal agreement in which City agrees not to enforce the ban on camping and structures until Sept. 1. The agreement also formalizes the date that the clients will leave the corridor.
Recognizing that urgent public safety issues and environmental damage are occurring, the Portland Police Bureau will increase patrols along the corridor. The City will provide biohazard cleanup, will begin placing dumpsters along the corridor, and work with advocates on some garbage cleanup prior to Sept. 1.
“I said before that we resisted moving campers from the area because we don’t yet have good options for all the people living there,” Mayor Hales said. “That continues to be true. Recognizing that, I want to ensure this cleanup was is humane and compassionate as possible. Adjusting to social service providers’ requests is part of that.
“I know neighbors to the Springwater are dealing with very real problems, and I hope that initial steps now and a major cleanup in one month will balance our need to treat people humanely, with our need to restore the Springwater to a public asset.”
During August, service providers and advocates will continue outreach, and will work to ensure campers are aware that they must leave before Sept. 1. Signage will be posted informing people of the date, and Portland Police and park rangers will also help spread the word.
“As a community partner working to address concerns regarding the Springwater Corridor, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of our community’s most vulnerable citizens who are living outdoors in these areas, particularly youth and young adults under 25 for who we may be able to provide immediate safety services,” said Dennis Lundberg, Director of Homeless Youth Services at Janus Youth Programs. “We are equally sensitive to the needs and concerns of the residents of these areas, as well as the broader community that utilizes these public spaces.
“We are concerned that there is evidence of very vulnerable and highly traumatized young people embedded in these camps with much older adults. The additional time the Mayor has proposed will allow our street outreach teams to explore these areas more closely, in an effort to identify potential youth and, most importantly, build the trusting relationships necessary to meaningfully connect these young people to resources and more viable long term communities of support.
“We know that if we are not trauma-informed in our methodology, we will absolutely lose these youth in the process of cleaning the Springwater Corridor and we could unintentionally drive them into less safe situations far beyond the reach of supportive, caring professional adults.”