Last Tuesday we reported that the board of directors of the McCormick Pier Condominiums had taken it upon themselves to close access to the Willamette Greenway Trail path between the Broadway and Steel Bridges. The reason? They said a nearby homeless camp was causing safety issues.
While the larger issue of homelessness looms over this issue and is of much greater concern to us than bikeway access, we’re covering it because the Greenway Trail is a public path and the city has an easement over the condo property during daylight hours. The homeless camp in this area has also encroached on the public path people use to connect between northwest Portland, Waterfront Park and the Steel Bridge/Eastbank Esplanade paths.
In updates to our story last week we shared that the McCormick Pier Condo board of directors was using the path’s closure to force action from Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. He didn’t like that. “I want you to know that I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage for political purposes,” he told me in a phone call after our story went up Tuesday. Hales’ office was already well-aware of the growing size and issues at the camp under the Steel Bridge and was already planning actions to address it before the gate was closed. For whatever reason, the day after our story was published, the city began a clean-up effort at the site.
The City says they needed to clean-up the camp in order to place a 53-foot cargo containter on the site (part of an initiative announced by Mayor Hales back in August). That container is now in place and several tents have been removed.
Here’s more about the situation from Mayor Hales’ Livability Project Manager Chad Stover (via an email exchange with a BikePortland reader on Friday):
“Long ago we recognized that that situation under the Steel Bridge was one of the more severe campsites in all of Portland, and that is partly why we strategized putting the day time storage unit in that specific place. The unit is designed with individual storage compartments, a sharps container, a kiosk, and it will be managed by a person in the mornings and in the early evenings. The whole purpose of having a storage unit put there is so that homeless people will have a place to store their belongings, in turn, making them more mobile, able to reach out to services, and less likely to stay in one place.”
Stover stresses that the storage unit is only an “immediate action” and that they are working on a larger plan to address homelessness citywide. “We believe it’s time for systemic change to happen in our city,” he said. With a $30 million downpayment, the City of Portland is working with Multnomah County to devise new policies around camp clean-ups “so that there is clarity among both the public and local government agencies about what is and is NOT allowed on the public realm in Portland.” Stover also re-iterated that the Oregon Department of Justice has made it clear that they do not want cities simply sweeping camps and moving people on to another location. The city is working toward having shelter for all 2,000 of the people currently living outside.
“This kind of change is going to take time,” Stover said “It won’t be like flipping on a light.”
For another look at how conditions under the Steel Bridge have changed since last week, check out the video below from yesterday (1/31) that was sent in via a Subscriber Post by Ted Timmons:
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