Sizeable Tigard Street homeless camp cleared
A sizeable homeless camp that occupied a portion of Tigard Street near Katherine Street has been removed in recent weeks.
Jim Wolf, spokesman for the Tigard Police Department, said getting someone to clean up the area took longer than it normally would have because it was on private property.
Wolf said the property owner hired a third party to remove the camp and haul away debris beginning around Jan. 10. Approximately 15 individuals lived at the camp, he said.
The issue came to the attention of the city after numerous complaints were made by residents, prompting an investigation by the city's code enforcement officer.
"After a check, they determined there was quite an extensive homeless camp set up," Wolf said.
Officials believe it was the biggest homeless camp removal in the city since a large camp on 72nd Avenue across from the Tigard Cinemas was removed in December 2013.
Wolf said that, before the most recent camp was taken down, police on Jan. 6 investigated the death of a 61-year-old homeless man there, determining he died from natural causes.
Wolf said over the years, several Tigard police officers have had regular contact with homeless individuals around town to the point of them knowing each other on a first-name basis. He said in early January officers even began to contact those in the camp about the pending cleanup.
In the past, the area has been the site of previous camps as well.
"This area ... has a tendency to proliferate over time," Wolf said.
Chris Bednarek, a nearby resident, said he was glad the camp was finally being taken down.
"It's an ongoing problem," he said. "I've been talking to the city about (it for) a dozen years."
Bednarek said anyone who stepped back to take a peek into the wooded area off of Tigard Street could have immediately seen the garbage and human waste.
"It was disgusting," he said, noting he was glad the city's code compliance officer, Ken Ross, worked to get the problem resolved and has kept him up to date on the progress.
Mayor John Cook said issues related to transient populations have gotten a little worst lately and that the city responds to residents' complaints if they are on city property. The fact that the latest camp was on private property delayed cleanup and response times, he pointed out.
"People are allowed to camp on private property if the owner doesn't care," said Cook.
Still, Cook said there were bigger issues with the latest camp with neighbors complaining that people in the camp had tried to open their doors.
At the same time, the city continues to look at the issue of homelessness in Tigard.
In December, the Tigard city Council met with members of the Tigard Task Force for the Homeless, a 15-member group gathered to present suggestions to the city regarding the best way to deal with the homeless community.
Among the task force suggestions were the possibility of paying police overtime to provide four hours of outreach each week to address issues facing the homeless and a request that the city provide $60,000 as a down payment to Just Compassion to aid in running a permanent day shelter as well as fund an annual project that helps homeless residents get access to resources.
Still, the problem with the Tigard area's homeless is complex, as noted by members of Just Compassion, a coalition that serves as a resource for adults without homes, operating a small day center in the city.
"It has saddened us that the homeless camp has been cleared away, as there is nowhere for our friends without homes to go," said Renee Brouse, who serves on Just Compassion's board and also is executive director of Tigard's Good Neighbor Center. "They will migrate to other areas where they feel safe."
Acknowledging the death of the homeless resident at the camp, Brouse said many of the man's friends and fellow homeless recently gathered to talk, console and digest the weekend the man passed away.
"The homeless problem is not going to go away and there is not an easy solution," said Brouse. "The barriers that exist for those who have found themselves homeless are many: the affordability of housing, mental illness, drug abuse, lack of jobs and much more."
Meanwhile, today (Thursday), Tigard is expecting to participate in Point in Time, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's (or HUD's) annual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals. The count is observed nationwide.