Homeless campers plan to resist city eviction
Leaders of the new Village of Hope homeless camp near Northeast Airport Way and Mason Street say they will resist attempts to evict campers, which could begin Thursday morning, Feb. 1.
Camp organizers were served Tuesday, Jan. 30, with city notices requiring them to remove their belongings by Thursday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 31, the group sent emails saying members would risk arrest to resist the evictions.
Members and supporters of the group disrupted the Jan. 31 City Council meeting in a protest against the evictions and continued sweeps of homeless camps.The protesters were angry that Mayor Ted Wheeler opposes the new homeless camp set up during the weekend in a city-owned natural area by the Columbia River Slough.
The council chambers protests began after a number of inner-eastside businessowners told council about problems they were having with homeless people. Wheeler began explaining the city's approach to the issue and protesters repeatedly interupted him. "If you know and have declared that you're in a housing emergency, a housing crisis, you do not sweep homeless encampments," one yelled.
After several disruptions, Wheeler invoked rules established last year that allows him to remove people who disrupt meetings. The council took a brief recess while one person was removed and others walked out, saying they were heading back to the camp.
Pleas for support
Although the city says the camp must go, the people living in the Village of Hope say it is a chance to build a life, explaining that they are tired of being chased from everywhere they camp. "All we're asking is a place to be where we can get from where we are to where we want to be," said one camper known as "Thumper." "Like off the streets. (You) can't set up (an) appointment for social security then are forced to move so you are moving and (you) forget about appointments and have to start all over again."
During a Monday, Jan. 29, press conference, Pastor Steve Kimes of the Anawim Christian Community, told reporters that the camp was self-governed and volunteers were dedicated to helping campers receive services they need. Ibrahim Mubarak of Right 2 Survive, one of the camp organizers, said the group hoped to stay in one place long enough to focus on re-entering mainstream society. "If the neighborhood association and business alliance don't want us in their area, they need to come out here and support us away from their neighborhood and away from their businesses and see what we're doing," Mubarak said.
In a written statement Monday, Wheeler says that rigid structures should not be constructed on public environmentally sensitive lands. But camp supporter Elspeth Tanguay-Koo notes the property is actually zoned industrial. "The location of the Village is not within an 'environmentally sensitive' public lands property," Tanguay-Koo said in a Tuesday email.
Tanguay-Koo also charged that the city had not maintained the property, claiming that campers collected 20 garbage bags of litter and refuse while moving in on Sunday. But city documents say the property was purchased for environmental reasons. It is intended as a buffer between the slough and industrial businesses in the area near Portland International Airport.
Portland is not alone
The camp is in a 165-acre parcel known as Big Four Corners. Some of the final 115 acres were purchased by the Bureau of Environmnetal Services from Catellus/ProLogis, a disribution company, in the fall of 2005 for $200,000. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board granted BES $150,000 for to restore wetland functions, add streamside vegetation, and improve water quality in the Columbia Slough. The parks bureau, which agreed to own and operate the site as a natural area, contributed another $40,000. Catellus/ProLogis donated the remaining parcel, valued at over $208,000.
"Big Four Corners is one of Portland's core habitat areas. It provides important habitat for deer, coyotes, river otter, and a variety of birds and amphibians. More than 175 species of birds use the Columbia Slough Watershed. Water quality benefits include protecting cold water sources to the Slough and providing the opportunity for restoration work to shade the Slough," according to a city publication (www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/index.cfm?&a=129798).
Before the protesters interupted him, Wheeler said that while the homeless situation in Portland is "dire," it is not unusual. He said that while recently attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., he met with other West Coast mayors to discuss the issue. In some cities, Wheeler said, there is even more of a crisis.
Wheeler blamed much of the homeless problem in Portland on housing costs that are increasing faster than incomes, forcing low-income renters out of their homes and preventing some newcomer from finding a place to live. He started to explain how the city was responding with a mix of affordable housing, emergecny shelter and livability initiaitves before recessing the meeting.
KOIN News 6 is a Portland Tribune news partner. Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this story.