Last week, a public agency dropped boulders onto a former rose garden. Neighbors rejoiced.

As part of a campaign to keep homeless campers off Oregon Department of Transportation property, the state agency has spent more than $1 million since 2013 on "rockscape landscaping"—in the common parlance, boulders—in at least six locations across Portland since 2013.

The latest spot? A thicket of rose bushes in the Goose Hollow neighborhood, at the intersection of Southwest Montgomery Street and 14th Avenue, where hostilities have escalated between homeowners and the houseless.

Neighbors attribute ODOT's decision to safety concerns in the area—and a potential liability risk to the department if it did nothing.

Boulders placed by ODOT at Southwest Montgomery Street and 14th Avenue. (WW staff)
Boulders placed by ODOT at Southwest Montgomery Street and 14th Avenue. (WW staff)

"ODOT, in our opinion, came in at the right time to deeming this area as a safety risk to all (campers and volunteers) and chose to boulder the area," says Tiffany Hammer, an area property owner who also sought the city and county's assistance.

Hammer and her neighbors planted 90 rose bushes to discourage people who were camping on ODOT property, as first reported by KGW-TV. She says she'll move 60 of those bushes back to the property in September to beautify the boulders.

ODOT records show the agency spent $4 million in the past two years alone on homeless camp cleanups, so deterring campers with rocks may save the agency money. But the key reason for the boulders is highway safety, says ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton.

"Boulders are our most effective method for keeping illegal campers out of areas marked no trespassing," Hamilton tells WW. "These areas, especially areas adjacent to major highways, are dangerous. Illegal campers have been struck and, in a few cases, killed while trying to cross an interstate highway. And in about 2010, a car spun off the road and killed a sleeping camper along I-405."

The agency is not the only one trying to deter homeless campers. In two notable cases, concrete flower planters were erected, seemingly to deter sleeping under both ends of the Morrison Bridge. Those planters received some scornful media attention, but the Portland Bureau of Transportation says it's never received a complaint about the planters and they can be placed on the sidewalk legally by owners. It's not clear who did so.

Hammer also has a new location in mind to plant rose bushes: Collins Circle, a roundabout in Goose Hollow on PBOT property.