KATU-TV: Park Safety Concerns Cloud School Opening

Here’s the latest report from Jackie Labrecque, KATU News Published: Aug 29, 2015  Aug 25th KATU report here

PORTLAND, Ore. — Parents whose kids attend the Emerson School in North Park Blocks are joining in the chorus of concerned voices for all the crime happening there: People camping out, doing drugs, and having sex all in a school zone. And the area is home to Art in the Pearl, a huge art festival over Labor Day weekend.

It was a reunion after summer vacation on the playground outside the Emerson School. The annual school picnic means school is about to begin.

“This year is decidedly different than any other year,” said Principal Tara O’Neil who had gloves on, and was carrying a sharps container as we talked with her. “I’m walking around making sure there’s no needles on the playground or in the grass around the park.”

Emerson is right along the North Park Blocks in the Pearl District.

“Just the numbers of street campers of people who are out in the park sleeping, or living all day long — it’s ballooned, it’s more than doubled than from what I can see out our window,” said O’Neil.

The kids have noticed, too. Their parents told them to share.

“It’s kind of crazy how many people are around, and it seems kind of unsafe,” said Max Pettit, who is in middle school, and graduated from Emerson two years ago.

“I see some fighting, getting arrested, it’s a very big issue,” said Enzo Ungar-Gutierrez.

“We’ve seen people shooting up, people having sex, we’ve seen people peeing, and the other thing in our doorways,” said Jean Fleming, who lives near the park.

Neighbors collectively say they do not feel safe.

Crime in Pearl's Parks

“This is a crime, nuisance, and quality of life issue. This is not a homeless issue,” said Fleming’s husband, Mic Fleming. “This is all new people, this is all new activity, this is a level we have never seen before.”

No one at City Hall would talk on camera, but we learned Portland park rangers are increasing visits at the park as frequently as possible, including an extra evening patrol. Over Labor Day weekend, when vendors have permits to set up shop for Art in the Pearl, police officers will work with park rangers to move the campers out.

Parents know that is just a short-term solution.

“We have a lot of people who can’t afford a roof over their head, or drug treatment, or good mental health counseling. I believe it’s really indicative of a much larger problem,” said an Emerson parent.

Take Back the Block: Emerson School Picnic – Aug 27th

Emerson School takes back the park
Emerson School takes back the Park Block

The folks at the Emerson School have extended this invite for the neighborhood to join them tonight Thurs Aug 27th

“I wanted to put out the information that The Emerson School is having our Back To School Picnic tonight, on the playground block, with ~100 families and children coming to play and take over the block for an hour or so. It begins at 6pm.

I had to send a notice to all our families to please bring chairs or plan on standing – the practice of laying out a blanket and eating picnic style on the ground was solidly discouraged by one of the park rangers, and I agree wholeheartedly—it’s just gross out there right now. Any of our neighbors are welcome to join us and just be part of a “take back the block” event for the hour (though you must have a tolerance for children running around)! I will be scanning the ground and playground for needles or any other safety hazards beginning at 5pm, if anyone wants to be available to help with that : ) —I’ll also have a name tag if anyone just wants to come and introduce themselves so we can make connections.

If you can help with attendance, it would be greatly appreciated!!!

They also wanted to let people know about their school schedule and daily use of the Park Blocks, in case that helps with any of our communications to the city. Their first day of school is Tuesday, Sept. 1. They have Daily P.E. in the park blocks from 10-10:30 EVERY MORNING – 150 students pour out into the park blocks for various large motor movement activities. They usually use the playground as well as grassy areas in a number of the blocks, starting with the “elephant block” and ending with the basket ball courts.

They intend to go out unless it’s really raining HARD. Their teachers walk the grass as needed to scoop dog poop each morning, and put cones around human (or questionable) waste. Then they use the playground for recess every day from 11:45-1:15, and then their After School program uses the playground from 3:15-4:15 when weather permits.

Mayor Hales – What’s the Plan?

After ignoring the summer’s invasion of traveling gangs into the North Park Block, the city surrounded one park block (between Burnside and Couch) with barbwire-topped chainlink fencing to cordon off the block from all public use.

City either ignores problem or denies all use

Not surprisingly the gangs moved across the street to the playground block in front of the Emerson school. The remaining blocks up to Flanders now have a higher concentration of drug use, prostitution and off-leash dogs.

This morning Michelle Cardinal CEO and Co-Founder of R2C Group wrote Mayor Hales  requisition clarification regarding his plan to reclaim the park. We will publish his reply.

Mr. Mayor

I was wondering when the North Park Blocks will be finished with fencing for fixing of irrigation system and prep for Art Walk? Last week – the city did fence in just one block at corner between Burnside and Couch. But have not completed entire section between Couch and Glisan.

This partial fencing, has caused many of the vagrants and gangs to move into a smaller are in front of the Emerson School and also our offices on Davis and Flanders, all the way down to PNCA. Making the situation even more unbearable.

On a safety note – things continue to spiral out of control on the North Park Blocks. I’m sure you saw the story of our neighbor who’s dog was attacked by an unleashed Pit Bull over the weekend? 

At night we continue to have large groups of gangs setting up tents and camping on our sidewalks – especially on Davis/park – under an overhang across the street from our office.

I am very concerned – there is a heightened sense of palpable fear in our neighborhood. These traveling gangs of hooligans, seem to have no fear. They are brazen, because they know the police have no authority to do anything. I worry something horrible could go wrong. When can we get some relief soon?

Your swift attention is appreciated.

Yours truly,

North Park Blocks Stalker

North Park Blocks Stalker
North Park Blocks Stalker

North Park Block neighbors are warned to be on the lookout for this man.

Email from a North Park Block’s business owner August 24, 2015:

On Monday night after departing my office my husband and I were stalked by a young man under the influence. He wanted money, then asked for my phone so he could check his Facebook. He physically threatened us. We ducked into the lobby of one of our buildings and he tried to enter the building after us.  He then waited outside the door in a threatening manner.  I called Clean and Safe – who did come and informed us there was nothing they could do.  Just move him along…

I was pretty shaken.  I typically walk to my car alone at night after working late

KATU-TV: Park Drugs, Public Sex, Off-Leash Dog Attacks

KATU-TV’s Jackie Labrecque reports on the break down of the North Park Blocks – drugs, public sex, off-leash dog attacks.

Note: Aug 25th – In an attempt to restore order to the North Park Blocks, the city began to cordon off the park with barbwire-topped chainlink fencing. More

KATU-TV ~ PORTLAND, Ore. — Neighbors in North Park Blocks have had enough of people using drugs, camping out for days, and even having sex in the middle of a public park in broad daylight.

The area runs along the south part of the Pearl District, and neighbors are begging city leaders to do something about it.

“Just in the past couple of months, the influx of homeless has been crazy,” said Amy Mullen, who takes her son to the park regularly around the city. It is his favorite, but she would rather avoid it.

NPB Burnside / Nw Park 8-12-15
NPB Burnside / NW Park 8-12-15

“People are shooting up, just out in the open. People are having sex, people are drinking. People are camping, they’re littering,” said Tami French, who lives right along the park.

French is fed up, and to make matters worse, her dog was attacked Saturday by another dog.

“It was the most horrifying experience. I thought he was going to kill my dog. I could not get this dog off of Yogi.”

French filed a report with Multnomah County Animal Services, and snapped a photo they asked us to include in our video report. They hope it will help them identify the owner who took off. Neighbors say the man hangs around the park a lot and the dog is rarely on a leash.

“We stand at that corner and look to see, Okay, where is the safest place to walk our dogs because there’s illegal activity occurring all the time in the park,” French explained.

Neighbors are posting each crime on their website, and are continuously calling on city leaders to do something. Police say they are aware of the pictures neighbors are posting of people having sex and shooting up and are addressing the problem with regular patrols.

While out talking with neighbors, the KATU crew ran into Bruce Stephenson who studies city planning.

“I’m trying to figure out how the park blocks are used,” Stephenson explained.

The professor from Florida is writing a book about the Pearl District. Each day he observes the North Park Blocks.

“What I’ve seen over the last two months is an increase of people with camping gear in the park blocks,” he said.

The very spaces moms would love to enjoy again with their kids.

“It’s understandable, it’s an unfortunate situation,” Mullen said. “But it isn’t fair. We’re a little nervous having a small child here.”

“Definitely, I would like to feel safe taking my kids to the neighborhood park,” said Jennifer Vesbit, who was at the park with Mullen.