On June 4, a small group of Laurelhurst residents installed more than two dozen planter boxes, each resembling a watering trough, along a street in the neighborhood that’s attracted persistent homeless camping. Within 24 hours, all of the troughs had been emptied of their soil and gravel and taken away.
It’s the latest escalation in a battle over homeless camping as intense as anywhere in Portland.
As Portlanders become increasingly frustrated by perceived inaction by the city to enforce existing anti-camping ordinances, neighborhoods and property owners are increasingly taking measures into their own hands. The Laurelhurst neighborhood has been locked in a struggle with unhoused people around its showcase park for over a year, with homeowners repeatedly urging the city to sweep the camps.
The neighbors did not obtain the city permissions required to install the troughs, WW learned earlier this week.
We asked Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and her challenger in the November election, Rene Gonzalez, to weigh in.
WW asked: Do you support the actions by the Laurelhurst neighborhood to deter camping?
Rene Gonzalez: Yes.
“I support residents protecting their neighborhoods when government fails to do so. However, I encourage Portlanders to work with local government and law enforcement to the fullest extent possible in confronting these difficult issues.
“Residents regularly share with our campaign stories about the dire situation of unsanctioned camping in the city. Like many Portlanders, residents on 37th have faced illegal dumping, fires, break-ins, property damage, and threats of violence from unsanctioned camp sites. They have also faced focused intimidation from anarchists, under the guise of activism, and a government unable to offer sustainable solutions. Fencing placed there by the city was regularly removed by unsanctioned campers and activists.
“In an ideal world, neighborhoods would not have to resort to such tactics to protect their neighborhood. Portland in 2022 is not an ideal world. I don’t condemn residents’ nonviolent self-help when government fails. However, we need a functioning local government that provides shelter, sets clear expectations for behavior from those receive social services in the city, and that heads off vigilantism; we need a state government that supports local ones in confronting these issues. Finally, our community needs to push back at the criminal elements, activists, and other enablers of continued unsanctioned camping in neighborhoods never designed for camping; chaotic camps that deeply damage those neighborhoods and expose the unsheltered to a vicious cycle of horrific living conditions, drug abuse, violence, and untreated mental illness.”
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty: No.
“We need to urgently address the crisis on our streets. My office has worked closely with neighborhoods, including Laurelhurst, to build consensus and humanely address the needs of people living outside. My hope is for neighborhood leaders to invest their time and money into constructive solutions.
“I am hopeful that all governments within Multnomah County will work with the city to identify land that community members can safely and compassionately find shelter in the short term, including city-owned vacant land and other publicly owned spaces. In the long term, continue to expand housing people can afford to live in.”