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Around 100 people had been living in tents and in vehicles on the border of Laurelhurst Park on Portland's east side.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Roughly 100 people lived at a homeless camp on the border of Laurelhurst Park. City officials and contractors have begun clearing out a homeless camp in one of Portland's tony east-side neighborhoods.

Numerous posts on social media indicated that Rapid Response Bio Clean crews were clearing out the long row of tents and other structures on Southeast Oak Street in the morning hours on Thursday, Nov. 19.

One Rapid Response contractor told Alex Zielinski of the Portland Mercury: "We know we're moving you and you're going to just have to set up camp somewhere else. I don't want this guy to be living in this tent, it's bulls---. These people deserve something better than a shelter."

Volunteers with Sisters of the Road were on site assisting residents of the camp, Zielinski reported. Portland Police Bureau officers were not visible, but some officials with the Bureau of Transportation were spotted.

One resident, Pony, told Street Roots executive director Kaia Sand: "This was the first time I had a structure in eight years."

During rallies earlier this month, dozens of local activists had vowed to prevent the clearing out of the campsite — and a small band of unknown persons inflicted minor vandalism to the Rapid Response Bio Clean headquarters days later.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said some in the camp were referred to newly-opened shelters, but others remained and did not follow social distancing mandates and other rules.

"We are taking action at Laurelhurst Park to ensure the health and safety of people living in our community and of our shared public spaces," Wheeler said in a statement. "We posted the site clearly and with ample warning so people were aware that a change was needed."

The mayor added that outreach workers have visited the encampment daily for two weeks.

"Moving forward, we will continue providing compassionate alternatives to street camping while preventing large-scale camps that block sidewalks and rights of way, creating public safety and health risks and obstructing access to shared community spaces," he said. "As we continue to address sites that pose risks to public and environmental health and safety, we will be deliberate in ensuring we continue to thoughtfully and sustainably balance a broad variety of needs and expectations."

Commissioner Dan Ryan commended the efforts of the city's urban camping impact reduction team and the service providers working at local shelters.

"The balance of protecting the health and safety of those living outdoors in increasingly harsh conditions, as well as the safety and well-being of residents, is both complex and challenging. We remain committed to doing the difficult and necessary work to address all aspects of this crisis," Ryan said.

Ryan's statement included some sentences that were identical to the language used in Wheeler's statement. Gwen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the commissioner, said a mayoral spokesman "provided permission to use some of their statement (if desired)."

Ryan added that "compassionate measures" were taken, including offering space in shelters where COVID-19 safety compliant conditions, hygiene, water, food and other services are available.

Zane Sparling
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