Campers at Laurelhurst Park received notice on Monday morning that they had 72 hours to move their possessions away from the park before the city’s sweep team came in and forcibly removed items.
That means the homeless camp, perhaps Portland’s most contentious, is set to be swept on Thursday after a year of festering tensions between homeless campers, nearby homeowners, city officials and housing activists.
But on Monday morning, a letter signed by Mayor Ted Wheeler and all four city commissioners made it clear: The camp has to go.
“A recent incident involved multiple firearms being drawn and their use threatened in the presence of a service provider. Prior to that incident, we increasingly struggled to maintain public safety and health standards as the camp grew larger and demanded a greater and greater share of the city’s limited resources,” the letter read. “The situation has devolved into something unsafe and unhealthy for everyone involved. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to serve the unhoused community near the park.”
The camp by Laurelhurst, with the largest encampment along Southeast Oak Street, has been the starkest example of the city’s emotional debate on how to best address homeless camps, if they should be addressed at all. It was swept once last November, but was repopulated in the following months.
The City Council’s letter was tinged with frustration, lamenting how county and city efforts to keep the camp managed weren’t enough.
It recited how nearly each of the city’s bureaus and county agencies attempted to help manage the park for nearly a year: near-daily outreach efforts, trash cleanup, porta-potties, and mechanic help from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Over the past year of the camp’s continued growth, situations have, on occasion, turned combustible.
Earlier this month, a city contractor cleaning the porta-potties witnessed an armed altercation take place in the camp. The contractor removed its facilities after that incident.
City officials pledged that the sweep would be coupled with outreach services to connect people to resources.
“We will work with the unhoused community to find shelter beds and services for those who are interested. If personal property remains, we will diligently inventory every piece. The Navigation Team from the Joint Office [of Homeless Services] will support houseless residents throughout the process, and we have planned to ensure that we are intervening to help people access the services they need,” the letter read.
On at least two previous occasions, a blockade of leftist activists has gathered in Laurelhurst Park in advance of a scheduled sweep, promising to stand between cleanup crews and the tents. It was not immediately clear if such a group would gather again, or what the city’s strategy would be if confronted.