Tigard moves to address homeless issues
Tigard officials say the city has made progress in recent months contacting homeless residents, discussing what services might be available to them, while still responding to private property owners who want homeless camps removed.
During an April 20 Tigard City Council work session, Police Chief Kathy McAlpine said a fall meeting with downtown Tigard business leaders and local homeless and mental health advocates focused on the increasing visibility of transients around downtown Tigard, including along the city's Heritage Trail, which begins on Main Street.
"One of the things I heard from them was still a need to have a visible presence," McAlpine said, "and so I created, for lack of a better term, a pilot program where I reached out to a community service officer, Brandon Peterson, and asked him to really kind of dedicate his time to checking in on our houseless folks, because by then we had the proper (personal protective equipment) and could make those checks."
Of Peterson, she added, "He's very modest, but he's put a lot of heart and soul into this effort, as you can see, and he is truly taxed — because the need is greater than just himself."
Peterson called his new charge a monumental task of outreach to those without homes.
"I've been working to try to find the balance between enforcement and outreach with limited time and resources," said Peterson, who noted that as Tigard's homeless population grows, makeshift encampments have become more visible on city trails and greenspaces and along highways.
Peterson said he has found that the most visible unsheltered residents are the most difficult group to provide resources for because they require "wraparound services." That may include mental health counseling, or treatment for substance addiction, or potentially both. Some have criminal convictions or are on probation, while others live with disabilities, he said.
Peterson said one of the individuals he frequently had contact with over the last several months is "Larry," who camped out behind Tigard City Hall along the Fanno Creek Trail until December.
Peterson said Larry, who is from out of state, told him he had been kicked out of a shelter and was having difficulties obtaining Oregon ID because of COVID-19 closures.
On Dec. 20, the area was hit with heavy rains, and Fanno Creek flooded. Larry abandoned his camp and sought aid at Just Compassion's shelter. The Feb. 11 winter snow and ice storm, which also caused significant tree damage, also caused many of those makeshift shelters to collapse.
"On March 11, our parks department cleaned up to five campsites along the Fanno Creek Trail, including Larry's. Larry's by far was the worst, as the flooding had scattered the debris and left a muddy mess," said Peterson. "The city spent 35½ hours in personnel time, and it cost $1,042 to clean up the encampments."
Peterson also monitored camps along Highway 217 on the Oregon Department of Transportation's right-of-way between Highway 99W and Southwest Hall Boulevard.
A property manager for the nearby Carriage House Apartments contacted the code enforcement officer on Jan. 27, telling him some of the camps were only a few feet from residents' balconies. Tenants were complaining about problems such as open defecation, vandalism, noise, trespassing and discarded trash. Some tenants terminated their leases over safety concerns, the property manager told him.
ODOT eventually cleaned up the property, and soon there will be permanent "No Trespassing" signs placed in the right-of-way, Peterson explained.
Peterson said during the time he's been monitoring homelessness issues, he has forged a relationship with the Bybee Lakes Hope Center, the former Wapato Jail that now houses homeless individuals. In addition, he has connected individuals with outreach programs offered by Just Compassion, the Tigard organization that offers a daytime resource center for the homeless and some overnight severe weather services as well.
At the April 20 work session, Tigard City Attorney Shelby Rihala described how the city's hands are tied at times when it comes to homeless issues. She noted that a precedent-setting court case has ruled that cities can't stop or punish those experiencing homelessness if there are no other places for them to go.
City Councilor Heidi Lueb noted that regionally, this isn't a problem specific only to Tigard.
"Every city in Oregon and every state is facing this issue," agreed Kathy Nyland, assistant city manager, noting the topic of homelessness is discussed frequently among other Washington County city and county leaders. "Education is going to be a huge component, because I don't think the community realizes how complicated the issue is and what we can do and what resources are available or what's needed."
This week, McAlpine said that she's supportive of reconvening the city's former 15-member Tigard Task Force for the Homeless, a group that made suggestions to the city regarding the best way to deal with the homeless community.
"Police should not be leading this effort but we cannot ignore that police are the first to be called with encampments, trespassing and other issues," said McAlpine. "Brandon (Peterson) has made some significant strides, but it is not the only answer, as we know it was just a small part of (what police) could do under my direction."
A so-called Washington County Point-in-Time Count to physically count all those without housing, conducted in January 2020, showed there were 618 individuals living in temporary shelters or housing or were living outside unsheltered.
The demographics of the count showed that:
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