Three outdoor shelters opened by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are the subject of a "ludicrous conspiracy" theory, tweeted Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury in response to an Associated Press report that fact-checked claims made about the shelters by a widely circulated video.
The result has been online threats against people living in the shelters, says Kafoury.
"A video posted to YouTube on Aug. 31 claims to expose a sprawling, coordinated headquarters for violent anarchists in Portland—but it actually shows temporary homeless shelters set up by nonprofit organizations in the city," the AP reported.
The claims in the video are "false," the AP reports, adding that the video on YouTube has been viewed 160,000 times and another version on Twitter has been shared 1,000 times and viewed 250,000 times.
"I think I discovered where such a large crowd of agitators could house themselves and stage themselves for such a large period of time and still be able to be so close to the center of action every single night," the voice-over in the video says. "This is a war encampment."
Local officials decried the misinformation:
"This camp shelter has been providing safety and stability for our neighbors without homes throughout the public health crisis," Kafoury says. "For someone to target vulnerable people to advance a ludicrous conspiracy isn't just wrong—it's sickening and dangerous."
JOIN, the nonprofit that operates the outdoor shelters, and a Home for Everyone, the board that coordinates local governments' response to homelessness, also issued a statement to explain why the camps exist.
"These shelters opened in April, after weeks of urgent planning prompted by the pandemic," the statement says. "They offered badly needed places to stay, and food and hygiene options, for scores of neighbors who didn't have a place to call home at a time when our community was under a strict stay-at-home order."
Kafoury says she and others are working with Portland police to ensure the safety of shelter residents in the face of threats.
"I was sickened not only by how quickly the lie spread, but also that it was used almost immediately to incite violence," Kafoury says in a statement.