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Portland Transportation Workers Helped Campers at Laurelhurst Park Fix Their Cars So They Could Move During the Sweep

PBOT has been doing such outreach every week at Laurelhurst for about two months now.

On Thursday, a team from the Portland Bureau of Transportation went down to Laurelhurst Park, where a homeless camp was being swept that morning, to assist people with their cars so they could leave the camp.

A spokesperson from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s office, Matt McNally, tells WW that a report to the commissioner’s office this morning from PBOT showed that workers distributed 8 gallons of gas, bought two batteries and radiator coolant, and towed three cars to the car owners’ approved locations for free.

McNally says PBOT has been doing such outreach at the Laurelhurst camp every week for about two months now.

It was members of the transportation agency’s Vehicle Inspection Team that had been visiting the campers at Laurelhurst.

“That help includes on-the-spot vehicle repairs, providing gasoline, spare tires, jump starts, connecting folks with services, providing hygiene materials from the Joint Office [of Homeless Services] supply center, and overall just problem solving, building relationships and helping folks where they are to achieve voluntary compliance over punitive enforcement,” McNally said.

One result, of course, is that the people living in those vehicles will depart the Laurelhust neighborhood, where tensions between homeowners and campers are at a boiling point, and move into other neighborhoods.

PBOT spokesperson John Brady says the team regularly responds to abandoned vehicle calls.

“Throughout the pandemic, our VIT officers have been out inspecting vehicles that are reported to be abandoned. If the vehicles are occupied or seem to be occupied, we have not moved those. The only exception is if the vehicle represents an immediate safety hazard.”

If it does present a safety hazard, Brady added, PBOT helps get it started so the driver can leave: “An example of that would be if the vehicle were blocking a travel lane or impeding visibility. In those cases, we work with the occupant of the vehicle to move it. If the occupants needs assistance to get the vehicle started, we will help with that by, for example, providing some gas.”

On Thursday afternoon, while the sweep was still being conducted by Rapid Response Bioclean and police were there surveilling, Hardesty went to Twitter to dispel rumors that PBOT was aiding in the sweep.

“There are false rumors spreading on social media about PBOT’s role at Laurelhurst today. To clarify—I’m proud that the PBOT Vehicle Inspection Team is on the ground helping people with vehicle repairs, providing gasoline, spare tires, jump starts, connecting folks with services, providing hygiene materials, and doing whatever they can to help people with their needs,” Hardesty wrote.

Hardesty added, “We understand this is a tense situation but ask the community to not spread false rumors about those that are here to help.”

The sweep, though led up to with much anticipation because of the contentious nature of the camp and the frustrations of nearby residents for the past year, remained nonviolent.

On Friday morning, a day after the sweep was completed, the orange flexible fencing put up by the city’s contractor Rapid Response Bioclean had been knocked down. From at least 11 am to 1:30 pm on Friday, two red-clad Rapid Response employees were painstakingly reerecting the orange fencing.