Portland mayor condemns attack on Rapid Response Bio Clean
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Ryan have strongly denounced the vandalism of a local business hired by City Hall to pick up trash from local homeless camps — and clear out those camps that persist.
On Nov. 12, a band of black-clad protesters marched from Colonel Summers Park to Rapid Response Bio Clean, 2711 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., where they smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti during a "direct action"-style demonstration.
Central Precinct officers responded to the area around 10:15 p.m. but made no arrests.
Portland protesters meet up tonight at Colonel Summers Park before marching to Rapid Response Bio Clean and damaging the building. The business is known for cleaning up bio messes as well as helping the city of Portland remove homeless camps. #Portlandprotest #portland #protest pic.twitter.com/qKO4FMuenY— Independent Media PDX (@NDpendentPDX) November 13, 2020
"We unequivocally condemn the vandalism, particularly because the business harmed is dedicated to helping people living outside manage their campgrounds by cleaning biohazards and human waste to mitigate the spread of virulent diseases, including COVID-19," wrote Wheeler and Ryan.
The officials say the incident was prompted by city plans to sweep out a houseless community on the border of Laurelhurst Park, following months of negotiations and daily outreach visits. Some 52 people living in the camp were referred to shelters, according to the statement, but dozens more remain in a campsite that blocks sidewalks and violates social distancing mandates.
On Nov. 10, about 150 activists vowed to prevent the city from sweeping the unbroken line of tents and cars on Southeast Oak Street. Mark Ross, a spokesman for Portland Parks & Rec, says the bureau is not involved in the relocation effort, but supports it.
"It is deeply sad for all of us at Portland Parks & Recreation to see people living outside," he said in a statement. "But the fact is, none of our parks nor natural areas are designed for people to live in."
Rapid Response is paid about $4.5 million a year for clean-up services, according to the Portland Mercury, and the contract requires the firm's workers to take de-escalation training, store personal effects and provide welfare checks when necessary. Activists say the firm isn't following those rules.
"Rapid Response will collect and store people's belongings after a sweep," Stop the Sweeps PDX wrote on social media after the vandalism occurred. "However, it is not accurate to assert Rapid Response does not throw away the belongings of houseless people. They absolutely do."
Those living in Laurelhurst — one of the wealthiest areas on Portland's east side — told a different story, describing loud fights, drug use, thefts and fires from campers, with some residents no longer sleeping in their homes due to safety concerns.
"It's getting worse, not better," Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association president Jeff Martin wrote in the group's latest newsletter. "We need the City to act."
Wheeler and Ryan note that Rapid Response maintains 137 hygiene units across the city, and says 75% of the company's staff have similar lived experienced to those living on the streets.
"People experiencing homelessness request the company assist them with trash and human waste removal," they wrote. "We will do everything in our power to ensure those responsible for this criminal act are apprehended and held accountable."
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