The camp along Southeast Oak Street in Laurelhurst Park will be swept sometime within the next week.
The camp, which has slowly reemerged since its high-profile removal by the city in late July, has become a focal point of the ongoing tension between Portland homeowners and homeless people. It’s also perhaps one of the more combustible situations, because the neighborhood surrounding the camp has become increasingly vocal and confrontational with the campers since the last sweep this summer.
The camp was last swept on July 31 after reports of gun possession by campers pushed city officials to remove the camp. But cars and tents quickly began to return to the street and the adjacent park annex. The camp has two distinct sections. One is along Southeast Oak Street, which is owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The other is in the park’s annex, which is maintained by the city’s parks department.
On Oct. 5, the city posted a green flyer on a tree on Oak Street, telling campers the camp would be cleared anywhere from 72 hours to 10 days from the posting, a little over two months after the last sweep.
That came as a relief to members of the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association, which WW wrote about in August as their gripes with the camp escalated to the point where a camper called the police on two neighbors, alleging that they took his personal belongings and filmed him. (The neighbors deny they took personal possessions.) Several campers told WW at the time they felt harassed by neighbors.
The emails between members of the neighborhood association and to elected officials were shared with WW since the last sweep. They show an increasing alarm over the camp’s gradual growth. The dozens of emails track nearly each new car, RV or tent. They document the remains of fires, trash buildups, and individual homeless people’s actions who are camping in Laurelhurst. A majority of those emails are penned by TJ Browning, the association’s safety chair.
On Oct. 16, Browning wrote to city officials: “Despite pleas to not allow camping around parks and playgrounds, despite warnings of potential harm to our children and park users and park workers, there have been campers permitted in and around Laurelhurst Park for far too long. Now the worse [sic] has happened and a child has been victimized due to your lack of action. So again, I ask where is the promised mitigation to prevent camping on SE Oak St and SE 37th adjacent to Laurelhurst Park Annex that was promised? How many more children will be harmed before you finally act?”
Browning was alluding to an alleged incident where a young girl picked up a needle while playing in the park and was pricked by it. KGW wrote about the alleged incident, but could not independently verify that the incident happened, since no 911 call or police report was filed.
After that alleged incident, more neighbors chimed in to lambast city officials for not clearing the camp.
On Oct. 17, a neighbor wrote to city officials that he and his husband were moving out of the neighborhood because of the camp.
“Commissioners Hardesty, Rubio and Ryan in particular, have done little to nothing to help out residents to deal with a laundry list of documented crimes, documented camper attacks on residents and park goers, and documented attacks on homeowners’ properties,” he wrote, and added that he and his husband sold their home. “We all sent 100s upon 100s of emails, photos and logged the issues via a useless PDXReporter to all of you. We got not an ounce of support and were ignored.”
On Oct. 21, another neighbor wrote to city officials: “Collectively you have turned a city that was known for its civic pride, progressive vision, and environmental stewardship into a different kind of model, one of progressivism run amok, of liberty giving way to license. You have made us a laughingstock and a warning to other cities both here and abroad. Friends who used to envy my living here now call to ask if I’m OK.”
Neighbors encouraged each other to report any suspected criminal activity to the Portland Police Bureau in order for the camp to gain points in the point system that determines whether or not a camp is put on the list to be swept.
City Council held a hearing on Nov. 5 about how to best allocate $40 million worth of surplus dollars to public safety efforts. Included in their budget items were full funding for an expansion of Portland Street Response and a doubling of the funding for the city’s team that performs sweeps.
Browning wrote to neighbors about the expansion after the meeting: “The people who are making us uncomfortable will be handled by [Portland Street Response]. However, the people who actually threaten our health and safety cannot be addressed by the STS.”
She wants the city to hire more police officers: “Any attempt to delay or limit funding for more police hires is irresponsible and ignores the reality of how dangerous Portland has become.”
The camp along Southeast Oak Street has not yet been removed. The city’s removal team does not post to the public when certain camps will be removed—only retroactively after they’re removed—so it’s not clear how long the campers have until they’re forced to move out.
The flyer promised all items confiscated from the camp would be held by the city’s contractor who performs the sweeps for 30 days before being thrown in the landfill.
In August, after the July sweep of Laurelhurst camp, attorney Micheal Fuller put tracking devices on various personal items of displaced campers. A woman whose painting was tracked by Fuller, Marge Pettit, sued the city and its sweep contractor, Rapid Response Bioclean, alleging it disposed of the painting without holding it for the promised 30-day window.
On Sept. 3, Rapid Response agreed to pay Pettit $500 for her painting to resolve the lawsuit (though the city and Rapid Response deny they ever disposed of Pettitt’s painting): “Essentially, Rapid Response had to buy the painting from Ms. Pettit for $500,” Fuller says. “So they paid us $500.”