The mayor's office calls the Eastside Esplanade unsafe. Will Hales' homeless policies make a difference?

SIDEWALK CAMPERS: Louis Wagner, 57, outside his tent on Southeast Madison Street, recently lost his house after a problem with his VA benefits. He's not certain about City Hall plans to move Right 2 Dream Too to the eastside. "It helps a little bit," Wagner says. "But what we need are homes."


Last year, when Noel arrived with his blue tent and its olive tarp, almost no one camped there. Now more than two dozen tents crowd the sidewalk along Main and Southeast Madison Street one block south.

As the numbers have grown, so have security concerns. Mayor Charlie Hales' office calls the area near the southern end of the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade unsafe.

Noel, 31 and homeless since he was 16, says police have occasionally rousted him and other campers, but now there are too many to handle. 

"If they had the jail full of everyone here, they'd be in trouble," he says.

Noel and other campers may now get even more neighbors. Mayor Charlie Hales said last week he wants to move Right 2 Dream Too, the Old Town/Chinatown homeless camp, to the eastside, nine blocks south of the Main and Madison tents.

Business owners in the Central Eastside Industrial District—already upset about the increase in homeless campers—have complained about the idea. 

Several campers tell WW they also aren't impressed. "It's a bad idea—too many people in a cage," says Sheri Hobbs, whose tent is near Noel's. "If we don't utilize [Right 2 Dream Too] now, why would we utilize it there?"

Since taking office in 2013, Hales has cast about for a cohesive policy on homelessness. He's tried before and failed to move Right 2 Dream Too. Hales also launched a massive sweep of homeless camps in the summer of 2013 that outraged housing advocates—an approach that City Commissioner Nick Fish called "a poor substitute for a thoughtful and compassionate policy to address homelessness."

The Portland Mercury first reported last week that Hales now wants to see a string of authorized "rest stops" for the homeless, like Right 2 Dream Too, in such areas as the Springwater Corridor.

"I'd like to see more rest stops," Hales tells WW. "We have to bear in mind that Right 2 Dream didn't work because the city created it. It worked because it was a community-led effort."

Right 2 Dream Too requires visitors to check in each night and doesn't assign permanent spaces. Hales' proposed rests stops would follow a similar model—provide resources but not permanent, individual campsites.

Supporters say business owners and the homeless should give the new location for Right 2 Dream Too a chance.

"Having Right 2 Dream in their neighborhood can be an asset, versus the idea that it can create more unrest on the street," says Israel Bayer, executive director of Street Roots, which covers issues affecting the homeless community.

The mayor's office acknowledges that the central eastside homeless camp is a growing problem.

"Right now, people are avoiding those areas because they are unsafe and scary," says Josh Alpert, Hales' director of strategic initiatives, adding, "The hope is that Right 2 Dream will bring a little more order to what is a fairly chaotic situation."

The plan hinges in part on whether Noel and other campers along Main and Madison will give Right 2 Dream Too a shot. Not many say they will.

"It's a joke," says Dyno, a camper who lives along Madison. "It was done wrong. They have too many rules. You can spend the night, but it's not a camp. Part of it is space—you don't have a space that's yours."

Local business owners have also expressed doubts about the new camp's potential to improve the situation. 

"It doesn't make sense to allow camping in a place where you can't build housing," says James Camaioni, manager of Star Rentals, three blocks north of the proposed Right 2 Dream Too location. "There's already some illegal campers down living in that area…. They're just moving the problems around, and we need to come up with a solution, not just legalize the camp.”  

WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.