City starts clearing long-term homeless camp in NW Portland
Two long-term homeless camps along Northwest 16th Avenue were partially cleared last week.
On Wednesday, Jan. 12, people living under the Interstate 405 overpass in large wooden shacks and tents were rousted by a team of 14 people from Rapid Response Bio-Clean. The team filled six box trucks and one large dumpster with stuff from the camps.
Some things will go straight to the landfill, some are deemed personal possessions and can be collected from a warehouse within 30 days.
Kyle Ryan has been a resident since April 2021 on the block between Northwest Quimby and Pettygrove Street. What he calls his bike repair business has spilled into the street over the winter. Ryan said he was surprised by the action.
"I didn't take it serious because my friend got the flyer and he posted it," Ryan told the Portland Tribune. "So, I was just waiting to see when the city would come in. And then they did today."
Ryan spent Wednesday scrambling to gather his stuff and relocate.
He said the Rapid Response Bio-Clean team was friendly.
"When they first got here, they came over to figure out what stuff was mine and what stuff was just trash," he said.
As he spoke, he was attempting to build a trailer from a box and bike wheels. He accepted that he had too much stuff to transport. About half of it was bike parts. He had three overflowing tents and sleeps in a covered cot someone dropped off. Rapid Response said they would help him move some of his belongings.
"They said, if it doesn't have wheels, they can't move it," Ryan said. "It's going into trash, pretty much."
Ryan said he was looking to move to another camp under I-405, around Northwest 18th Avenue and Savier Street. He said he isn't interested in a shelter or moving temporarily in with friends in an apartment. "I have too much stuff to bring to somebody's house. It's kind of a burden."
Ryan said he expects to be accepted at this other camp if he doesn't bring too many possessions.
"I know most of the people around here," he said. "The people are … chill. They understand what's going on. It's kind of a good thing because I want to downsize anyways."
He said his bicycle chop shop — he accepts bikes without asking if they are stolen and fixes them up to sell and trade — had spread into the roadway, but hadn't taken up the sidewalk.
A team leader with Rapid Response Bio-Clean, who did not wish his name to be used, explained that although many people at the bigger camp on the next block south were surprised by the call to move, his team allowed them time to sort and move their possessions. The material ranged from furniture to electronics to food to bottles of urine and buckets of feces.
He said the company is used to clearing hoarder houses, including a process for safely disposing of biohazards such as human waste and used syringes. Tents in good condition that were left behind are cleaned and donated to other homeless people. Rapid Response Bio-Clean is a "second chance company," meaning it gives people done with prison and probation a chance at employment. He said many on the crew were sympathetic, having been inmates or having experienced homelessness.
A person answering the phone at Rapid Response Bio-Clean said the company did not wish to speak to the media.
As the crew worked, residents wandered the neighborhood with small loads of possessions looking for new, dry spaces to bed down. By 2:30 in the afternoon, only one resident, who gave his name as Brandon, was still there on the site between Pettygrove and Overton streets. He scrambled to move his possessions across the street, making a pile. By 4 p.m. the crew had gone, still leaving significant piles of garbage behind.
Brandon and said he had lived there for two years. He was still carrying bags away on his mountain bike. He said the police had taken all his clothes and his cell phone and was going to protest to Portland's chief of police.
On Monday, Jan. 18, some large piles of trash and unsorted belongings remained, with rats running around and pedestrians still avoiding the sidewalks, but by Tuesday the piles were mostly gone. Ryan was still there with his bike parts and three tents, however. His block and the next block south had been cleared of residents.
A spokesperson for City of Portland's Office of Management and Finance, which deals with cleanup under the Impact Reduction Program, said that the Rapid Response Bio Clean crews were working downtown in the area underneath I-405 all last week. The area covered the entire area underneath I-405 and Highway 30, from Northwest 20th Avenue to Northwest 15th Avenue and Northwest Overton St. to Northwest Thurman St. This includes the ramp from Northwest 23rd Avenue up to the Fremont Bridge, and the area around St. Patrick's Catholic Church. These are prime Portland camping areas, protected from precipitation, near to supermarkets and away from residences.
The area was considered a "a high risk to community health and safety", one of many across the city. The cleanup company Rapid Response Bio Clean at first scheduled a minimum of three 3-person crews for two full weeks to work at this site. When they realized how big it was, they split it into four smaller areas.
The city has expanded its contract with Rapid Response from nine three-person work crews for its Impact Reduction Program to 17 three-person work crews. This meant that more crews could temporarily be assigned to this part of town.
The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program was awarded a total of $6.5 million of General Funds in the Fall Budget Monitoring Process.
In November 2021 Multnomah County and Portland City Council announced they would spend another $38 million to reduce homelessness, including paying for shelter beds, outreach workers, and clean ups.
Back in the bike zone a block north, Kyle Ryan said he had had some close calls working in the roadway with cars almost hitting him. Worse was when a passerby punched him one night, which he assumed was part of a gang initiation.
"I thought it was just some drug addict and a bunch of random nonsense. Since I wasn't looking at him or engaging with him, he got mad and came into the space and punched me and then walked away," he said. "It didn't really hurt that much, but it just caught me off guard. It hurt my pride more than anything. Fortunately, there weren't anybody to witness it."
Ryan said, in the bike trade, name-brand frames are popular. Also BMX. "Nobody really uses the brakes … the wheels are the hardest part to keep. BMX is really popular right now. Everybody wants BMX 20-inch wheels with fat tires now."
He was born in New London, Connecticut, but his family moved to Beaverton when he was small. His family moved back east last year. He has had jobs as a personal trainer and a machinist but quit because he didn't want to work for someone else. When his family left, he became homeless. During the pandemic, he couldn't find work.
"If I asked for help, they would probably do what they can, which is not very much right now," he said.
In the Navy
Ryan was soft spoken despite the noise of the freeway. "I have chronic back, hip, ankle and knee pain," he said. "And some mental health stuff like PTSD."
He said he has post-traumatic stress disorder from being shot at in Afghanistan as a Navy corpsman, a medic for the U.S. Marines. He is on a list for veterans with disabilities housing. He gets medical treatment for past illnesses from the Veterans Benefits Administration. For newer illnesses, he would need to buy health insurance.
He said the orange syringe caps in his camp were left by friends whom he allows to inject drugs "I just made sure that there's a safe place for them to do it, so they need clean stuff," he said. "It's harm reduction."
What is the worst thing about being on the streets?
"If you're a materialistic person, probably your stuff getting stolen," Ryan said. "That's pretty much constant. And constantly having to be on high alert for the weather, for the people. There some really weird people who come out at night."
The city spokesperson for the Office of Management and Finance said in a new email, "We have found that people generally relocate within 400 yards of the site that was posted for removal. Many people also move back to the same site after it's been cleaned….The City does not restrict people from camping on City-owned property nor do we monitor sites after removal. Our program's goal is to mitigate the risks associated with camping and assist in getting people connected to services â€“ and that's where our role ends. …There are several sites throughout the City that we return to on an ongoing basis."
The spokesperson said that camps are cleared for health and safety reasons.
"And it's certainly a point of contention with community members who have waited several months to have a site near their homes removed â€“ to know that there is no process for preventing people from moving back to the same site. But it's a reality - we don't manage property usage, we only clean campsites and remove personal property to mitigate the risks associated with urban camping. They don't always return to the same site, but we've found it's common."
As of June 26, Kyle Ryan's bike chop shop camp appeared to have been abandoned for several days. On Wednesday morning a different man was loading up a shopping cart with bicycle frames and taking them away.
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