A Friday evening leftist demonstration in Southeast Portland's Brooklyn Park ended with vandalism at Rapid Response Bio Clean, the city contractor that assists in sweeps of homeless camps.
Activists said the property destruction was meant to express rage over recent sweeps of Portland-area tent villages. But others raised questions about how such an action benefits the Portlanders living in those tents.
The city of Portland contracts with Rapid Response Bio Clean to clean up garbage, hazardous materials, and the possessions of houseless Portlanders living outside in improvised campgrounds. While the city's Office of Management and Finance contests the term, the practice is generally called a "sweep."
Activists have struck Rapid Response's offices at least once before, last November. The vandalism Friday suggests a new dynamic has been established in the contentious debates over Portland homeless camp sweeps: Some of the city's most strident leftists will target the property of city contractors who assist in removing tent villages.
A flier for an "anonymously organized action"—at a park near Rapid Response's Southeast Milwaukie Avenue location—began circulating social media on Monday, April 5, following an early morning sweep in Chapman Square where tents and belongings were loaded into trucks and the park was fenced off against further occupancy. Hours after the initial call, another flier delayed the action until Friday, April 9.
But as that day arrived, chatter between activists focused solely on a birthday party in the park, which kicked off around 7 pm with cake, a piñata, and a flag burning.
Capping the celebratory affair, at 9 pm about 50 people marched the short distance to Rapid Response. They broke one of the front windows and wrote "Stop the Sweeps" and "Stolen Land Stolen People" on the building's street-facing walls before swiftly leaving and marching to Duniway Park in Southwest Portland.
When Rapid Response's building was similarly vandalized in November 2020, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan released a statement in the company's defense, stating that nearly 75% of Rapid Response's staffers "have similar lived experience to those at campsites."
Activists in Laurelhurst Park—who are currently attempting to block the sweep of a campground there—echoed this sentiment at a "sweeps support training" on April 6. "We don't want to be shitty towards Rapid Response," an activist named Moe said. "They're known for hiring the unhoused and other people who have a hard time getting jobs. It's just another example of poor people being pitted against each other."
Rapid Response Bio Clean did not respond to a request for comment.