Gresham clears homeless camps from Springwater Corridor
Kevin Dahlgren walked the length of Gresham's section of the Springwater Corridor Trail during his first week on the job as a community health services advisor with city last October.
His task was to find ways to get the chronically homeless off the streets. The trail was flagged as a trouble spot after countless complaints from nearby homeowners and community members who said they felt unsafe walking or living on the trail.
The 4.5 mile section was overrun with homeless camps and trash. Including the 14 additional miles of dirt trails that diverge from the main Springwater route, Dahlgren discovered more than 150 camps — ranging from simple tents to embedded compounds that had been in place for years with heating and electricity.
"Even my girlfriend told me she wouldn't run on the corridor because she didn't feel safe," Dahlgren said. "So I made the corridor my first big project."
After that first week, Dahlgren, and others across the city, dedicated themselves to getting the homeless off the streets and into permanent housing.
The result has been a reclamation of Gresham's Springwater Corridor Trail. While the city of Portland still struggles to deal with its portion — marked by crime and an overwhelming amount of trash and camps — Gresham's share of the Springwater is now clean, almost completely free of homeless camps, and most importantly, safe.
"We sent a clear message that camping isn't allowed," Dahlgren said. "It wasn't the most popular decision with everyone, but it was needed."
Drawing the line
The two worst sections of Gresham's Springwater Trail were infamously known as the "Deep Woods," where the trails stretched away from the paved path and wound through heavy foliage and trees.
In the "Deep Woods," homeless campers had little desire to leave. Most had called those sections home for years, and even Dahlgren admitted it was an unsafe place for people to go without supervision.
City staff reached out to the people within the "Deep Woods" to see if they were ready for permanent housing. A common response was no — but city staff persisted.
"We helped the people who wanted help," Dahlgren said.
Those who refused were asked to find somewhere else to camp. Most headed to Portland and its laissez-faire approach to the problem, Dahlgren said. The result of the exodus can be found at the western edge of the Gresham trail — where the Springwater intersects with Southeast Jenne Road.
Only 50 feet from the Gresham section, you can see several camps and shopping carts choking the Portland trail. Underneath the bridge nearby on Jenne, one homeless camper has accumulated about a thousand pounds of trash, which used to be a common sight in Gresham.
Dahlgren said he knows several of the campers on the border of Gresham and Portland. Despite his efforts, they aren't ready to accept help. So they continue to camp in Portland.
Click here to read the rest of the story in the Gresham Outlook.
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