Portland Homeless Crisis Sows Dissent in Tolerant City

Day Campers in front of Emerson School NPB ~ July 2015
Day Campers in front of Emerson School NPB ~ July 2015

Reprinted from ABC news Gillian Flaccus, AP — Sep 7, 2016 Link

There have always been homeless people in Portland, but last summer Michelle Cardinal noticed a change outside her office doors.

Almost overnight, it seemed, tents popped up in the park that runs like a green carpet past the offices of her national advertising business. She saw assaults, drug deals and prostitution. Every morning, she said, she cleaned human feces off the doorstep and picked up used needles.

“It started in June and by July it was full-blown. The park was mobbed,” she said. “We’ve got a problem here and the question is how we’re going to deal with it.”

The city is booming, and the homeless are more visible than ever before. Skyrocketing rents, cripplingly low vacancy rates and a severe shortage of affordable housing are forcing Portland to re-examine its live-and-let-live attitude in a place where residents have long been tolerant of everything but intolerance.

And in a city where the mayor says “unhoused” instead of homeless and where tent camps have names like Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too instead of Skid Row and The Jungle, residents are wondering if Portland needs to rethink its strategy as a permanent solution seems ever-more elusive.

“The city doesn’t have a coherent approach to … really enforcing any type of rules about where people can camp,” said Chris Trejbal, who lives near a homeless camp called Hazelnut Grove.

“It’s been a disaster. There’s no leadership.”

The issue peaked this year when Portland declared a homeless state of emergency and Mayor Charlie Hales made it legal to sleep on city streets.

At the same time, Portland welcomed 1,000 new residents a month and the average rent has increased about $100 a month. The metropolitan area needs 24,000 more affordable housing units; vacancy rates are some of the lowest in the nation.

“It’s white hot, people want to move here and live here, as well they should. It’s an amazing city . but our zoning and our planning process is really behind the curve in terms of providing flexible and affordable living arrangements,” said Mayor-Elect Ted Wheeler. “It has not caught up with the new reality.”

Part of that reality is the nearly 1,900 unsheltered people who camp from Portland’s downtown core to its rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods to the forested areas along the urban fringe. A one-night count last year found the overall number of homeless people hasn’t increased significantly, but the number of chronically homeless has risen steadily to make up about half of the total population.

Portland has earmarked $250 million for affordable housing and has a $250 million housing bond on the November ballot.

The city has also joined forces with Multnomah County to tackle the crisis head-on with $43 million in funding; leaders in a new coalition want to cut homelessness by half in three years.

Yet there is a potent belief that the city isn’t doing enough because homelessness suddenly seems everywhere.

There aren’t enough short-term beds while Portland works at long-term solutions. When one camp is shut down, another pops up.

After letting up to 500 homeless people live for months along a 21-mile bike trail in southeast Portland, the city cracked down and last week uprooted a network of tents, some of them stuffed with armchairs and couches.

Neighbor LaDawna Booze had called police repeatedly to report drug use, theft and excessive noise there.

“I haven’t been out in my own yard in a few years. I feel like I’m watched everywhere,” she said. “It’s changed my life.”

Booze isn’t alone. The issue was a constant in this spring’s mayoral campaign and it dominates the local news. Since June, 5,000 people have called a hotline to complain about homeless camps, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Hales, who dropped out of the race for re-election, has struggled to find a common ground between upset business leaders and homeowners and homeless advocates, who feel the city is shuttling the homeless around with no plan.

He was sued after announcing his “safe sleep” policy, but the city was sued again last month after commissioners voted to proceed with plans to turn a vacant industrial warehouse into a 400-bed homeless shelter.

Suggestions to house the unsheltered in a mothballed jail have been slammed for symbolically criminalizing homelessness but a state land use board killed a plan last week to move a city-sanctioned tent village to industrial land.

“You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t so you’d better ‘do,’ because no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to homelessness,” said Hales, who ended the ‘safe sleep’ policy after six months.

Those on the streets are craving answer as the cold and rain of a Portland winter approach.

Deitra Schmer moved into an RV when the city swept the Springwater Corridor. She has nowhere else to go and says she couldn’t keep her job as a certified nursing assistant because she had no stability.

“You can’t move every 10 days or every three days and keep your job. It just doesn’t work,” she said. “Not to have to worry about where I’m going to lay my head — that’s my biggest issue.”

Bolt Bus – It’s A Park, Not Your Bus Depot

Without facilities, trash piles up on the street
Without facilities, Bolt trash piles up on the street. Passengers ask nearby businesses to use bathrooms.

Bolt Bus, a subsidiary of Greyhound likes to market itself as the hip, low-cost future of bus travel. Earlier this year, Bolt moved into the North Park Block without warning. Rather than use their nearby Greyhound bus station (at NW 6th and Hoyt) Bolt turned the corner of NW Everett and 8th into a bus terminal without concern for it’s impact on the the park or neighborhood. We first  in February. See Terminal Chaos Forces Bolt Bus To Street Corner

Bolt passengers block sidewalk
Bolt passengers block sidewalk

To update the situation, here’s a reprint of a letter from Pearl District Neighborhood Association. 822KB pdf

April 19, 2016
Re: Bolt Bus
Dear Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick,

The Pearl District Neighborhood Association (PDNA) brings forward the following Livability & Safety concerns regarding the Bolt Bus stop/depot that moved from SW Salmon St. to NW Everett St. at 8th Avenue; without any prior communication to the neighborhood. The Bolt Bus move to this block has had an immediate and negative impact on those living and working here.

Bolt riders forced sit on the sidewalk
Bolt riders forced sit on the sidewalk

We do not understand why Bolt would use a city street for a depot as there are no services commonly associated with a commuter bus terminal. Bolt Bus provides a coach service to destinations as far as Vancouver BC. Their customers travel with luggage – which necessitates being dropped off or picked up by car or taxi. Buses queue all day long, starting with the 6:30 AM pickup – which results in increased traffic starting sometime after 6AM and throughout the day. The Bolt Bus’s last drop off is scheduled for 10PM, although with delays their buses do sometime arrive much later. The increase in traffic is undeniable. The noise from the idling cars, the greetings and farewells, the honking of frustrated drivers who cannot proceed on Everett or surrounding streets due to double parking is ever present.

Bolt Bus drop offs block traffic
Bolt Bus drop offs block traffic

Livability Issues:

  • Noise from the buses; including idling and wheelchair ramp engagement.
  • Pollution from the buses.
  • Littering from Bolt Bus customers due to the fact there are no trash receptacles
  • Cigarette butts thrown on the sidewalk and ground cover of the WeWork (Custom House) building as there is no butt disposal container.
  • Illegal congregation of Bolt Bus customers under the private property doorway of the previous Remedy Wine Bar (also an egress into/out of the North Park Lofts building for residents); as Bolt Bus customers attempt to get out of the rain, wind, cold, heat, etc.
  • For residents of the North Park Blocks building; especially those on the corner of 8th and Everett, there is a materially negative impact on the livability of their homes; and most likely the property values as well. Residents are unable to open their windows due to the noise and exhaust.
Idling Bolt buses block street crossing
Idling Bolt buses block crosswalk

Safety Issues:

  • Traffic congestion as the stop is in a lane of traffic on an already busy street (Everett).
  • Illegal parking of cars picking up and dropping off Bolt Bus customers.
  • Concerns for the safety of Bolt Bus customers and drivers at the North Park Lofts building garage entrance/exit. Bolt Bus customers congregate under the roof of the garage door to get out of the rain, wind, cold, heat, etc. This is particularly concerning as this exit is a downhill slope from the parking garage which makes visibility poor; a risk for drivers and Bolt Bus customers.
  • Cars are parked illegally, backing up a lane of traffic (which also has two pedestrian crossings) on Everett between 8th and Park; as they drop off or pick up Bolt Bus customers.
  • Buses stack up down Everett as Bolt uses Cascade and Northwest Point and other bus company’s buses when demand exceeds Bolt Bus capacity.
  • The right lane of traffic on Everett is impassable when Bolt Buses drop off or pick up passengers; creating traffic back-ups that extend into the pedestrian walkways.
  • There is no presence of traffic officers ticketing illegal parking in a lane of traffic on Everett nor are there parking officers to ticket drivers who are not paying for parking as they are dropping off/picking up Bolt Bus customers.
Blocked sidewalks and illegal dropoffs
Blocked sidewalks and illegal drop-offs

This bus depot should be relocated to Union Station which has a facility with seating, bathrooms, concessions, garbage receptacles, etc. or to a parking lot where at least the traffic concerns would be addressed or use the bus depot on NW 6th and Glisan.

Please advise as to next steps to work towards a resolution in this matter.


Patricia Gardner
President, Pearl District Neighborhood Association

Bus passengers trample plantings to get out of rain
Bus passengers trample plantings to get out of rain

Portland Sidewalk Camping on Yelp


Update: Since we first posted this on April 26th, the Yelp listing has been pulled. But we can share this archived PDF Version 600kb

While the mayor’s controversial street camping policy has triggered a lawsuit, it’s also inspired someone to create a new Yelp Business listing:  Portland Sidewalk Camping. Not surprisingly, it uses City Hall’s contact info.

Last summer we posted some unsavory photos to make the point about how bad behavior was transforming our park into  #Camplandia.

Ridicule is a better way to go. Who knows, maybe the NY Times will notice?

Mayor Hales and PDX Sued Over Homeless Camping

tent cityReposted from Oregonian by Brad Schmidt April 20, 2016

Portland’s homelessness crisis hit a fevered pitch Wednesday as a new coalition sued the city and Mayor Charlie Hales, calling Hales’ pro-camping policy an illegal abuse of power because the City Council never signed off.  Full story at the Oregonian

Read the lawsuit

… If successful, the lawsuit would force the City Council to officially greenlight Hales’ plan or revoke it in favor of a compromise that includes public participation and stricter enforcement of existing anti-camping laws

…  The lawsuit is a remarkable event in the city’s checkered history dealing with homelessness. In the past, civil-rights advocates have successfully sued Portland over unconstitutional sidewalk rules and anti-camping laws that didn’t account for the belongings of homeless Portlanders.

But the enforcement pendulum began swinging last year when the City Council approved a housing emergency and camping became more prevalent. In December and January, police responded to two confirmed stabbings at homeless camps and last month a homeless man was shot at a Southeast Portland camp near a preschool.

PDX street camping

Summer Youth Camp Cancelled – Springwater Unsafe

The following is from a Facebook post by Portland author Joe Kurmaskie. More on Joe’s past bike camps here. More on Springwater conditions and impact on the camp – BikePortland.

Joe Kurmaskie

It’s with deep regret that I’m officially canceling our Portland summer bike camps for the upcoming season. The Springwater corridor has become too unsafe and it is our main pipeline to all the bike adventures we do for the kids each summer – I’ve experienced threats, people with wolverine style weapons on their hands lashing out at me when I cycled by, open drug use, trash thrown into the path while I biked past, and this morning one of my good friends had to call 911 due to a person standing in the open pleasuring themselves while people of all ages ran and bicycled by.

As many of you know I am an advocate for the homeless and for kindness and dignity. I have reached out to city officials and mayor Charlie Hales this winter and spring and received no response. We were set to expand the programs and sessions to other Portland community centers this summer but I can not move forward given the current conditions and the deafening lack of response by the powers that be to our concerns.

My heart breaks for my community and for the kids who will not get this experience.