Transients leave behind thousands of pounds of trash in Troutdale park

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Anthony, who has no permanent home, helps a friend clean out a campsite in Thousand Acres.Beneath a canopy of trees on the south bank of Interstate 84 in Troutdale’s Thousand Acres park, Anthony, a homeless man, is packing up the remains of a friend’s campsite.

The transient of nearly five years said Thousand Acres offers a lot more room than some wooded areas in the city. He usually sets up camp here in the summertime and goes elsewhere in the winter.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Multnomah County Sheriffs Office inmate work crews drag garbage left behind by transients out of the park.“I don’t believe we are a menace to too many people,” he said.

A large tent, sleeping bags, tarps, coolers, rugs, wicker chair, boombox and other items to make living outside more comfortable are piled in front of him.

It is one of 30 or so homeless campsites in the area police have targeted for removal as part of a massive “sweep” the Multnomah County Sheriff’’s Office began conducting earlier this month.

Over the past five years (since the last sweep), more and more transient camps have popped up along trails in Thousand Acres and the Sandy River Delta, sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. Steve Alexander said.

In the past year, police have received increasing reports of assault, domestic violence and car prowls in the area. Citizens walking on the trails stretching from the Sandy River corridor to the Columbia River also have complained of threats and harassment from transients, he said.

Based on the paraphernalia left behind, drugs and alcohol use are also among their activities.

Alexander said the purpose of the sweep is “to improve the quality of the environment and restore the area and make it a better place for the community to come and enjoy.”

In just an hour and a half Wednesday morning, sheriff’s work crews had filled a 40-yard Dumpster with debris left behind by transients.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A transient campsite in the middle of Thousand Acres.“A lot of them have packed up their stuff and moved out,” Alexander said. “They took what they wanted and left.”

The sweep is a coordinated effort between sheriff’s deputies, the river patrol, Troutdale and Gresham police departments, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Over the past couple of weeks, patrol units and outreach workers contacted the 50 to 75 homeless people living in the parks, using dirt bikes and GPS devices to find and tag their camps.

Illegal camping notices were posted on transients’ tents to give them fair warning before the actual sweep.

Alexander said many of the campsites are “full-on living vestibules” with “couches, mattresses — the whole set-up.”

By the end of the day, more than 10,000 pounds of debris were removed from the park, he said.

Litter everywhere

Off the north side of Interstate 84, U.S. Forest Service patrol officers are busy hauling junk out of the park from leftover campsites. A golf cart passes by, carrying a mattress on the roof. Deputies monitor a straggling transient, a tall, gangly young man pulling a wagon of stuff down the trail, his dog following behind. Down the path, county inmate crews bag pounds and pounds of garbage and load them onto a truck to be carried out.

They approach a site tagged for pickup.

U.S. Forest Service Captain Andy Coriell walks past, saying, “It is the worst camp I have seen in 10 years.”

In the middle of Thousand Acres, it’s about a 1,200-square-foot campsite with four tents, tarps, hammocks and clothes lines hanging from branches. Narrow dirt paths wind through mounds of gear and scattered garbage: shoes, jackets, tools, homemade stoves, tires, broken CDs, a giant toy cow head.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - More than 10,000 pounds of trash were removed  in the one-day sweep.“It may be junk to us, but to them it’s their belongings,” Alexander said. Work crews separate trash from any property of value, he said, then it’s bagged and tagged.

“We hold it at the Hansen building (where the sheriff’s office is) for up to 30 days so people have a chance to come and get it,” he said.

Below another campsite — a wooden platform tucked up into a pine tree with blue tarps for a roof — the homeless have left behind what they don’t want or can’t carry.

A satellite dish, laundry detergent container, towels, mini fridge, batteries, Mountain Dew bottles, hiking boots, water jugs, pots, pans, pillows, broken glass, plastic cups, Miller High Life bottles.

“How they drug it all out there is a definitely a triumph in itself,” Alexander said.

On the move

To help ease the transition of transients leaving the park, outreach workers from the Department of Human Services and JOIN, a Portland homeless advocacy group, have been offering them access to resources and help finding better housing.

“It is obvious that people need assistance,” Alexander said. The goal is to “improve everyone’s quality of life,” he said.

No citations were issued during the cleanup effort, Alexander said.

But some folks have been upset with officers asking them to move out. Others understand it was only a matter of time.

“You can’t really set up any permanent spot,” Anthony said. He already packed up his campsite on the other side of the highway before helping his friend. “You gotta keep moving,” he said.

Although he was bummed about having to leave his campsite, “I fixed it up pretty nice,” he said.

Anthony, who has spent time in prison, said he likes the outdoors.

He catches fish from the river to eat and gets supplies at the local Walmart to bring back to his camp.

He said he has allergies to things in a house — dust mites, cats, carpets.

“I actually breathe better out here,” he said. “But ... I’d rather be inside.”

Anthony said he’s had chats with an outreach worker from JOIN. He is trying to get his Oregon identification card back. “That’s the first step,” he said.

Alexander said there may be people who come back after police finish with the sweep.

“At least we give them some options,” he said. When the colder weather sets in, police likely will continue to check on the homeless who do return.

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