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City responds to Steel Bridge homeless camp, Condo owners re-open Greenway path

Posted by on February 1st, 2016 at 11:43 am


Path gate open for business.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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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:

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) February 1, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Note the container has an externally-accessible sharps container. It looks like a book drop. I’m glad it is accessible 24/7, since needles are a big issue people complain about.

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    • Spiffy February 1, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      people also complain about garbage, which there is lots of next to the dumpster…

      I don’t see why people won’t just keep throwing their needles on the ground…

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      • Tim February 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

        Having done some work on Portland’s bridges, it became obvious to me that leaving used syringes around was a way to mark territory and keep others (like me) out. It worked on me.

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  • Champs February 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    “I want you to know that I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage for political purposes”

    i·ro·ny: a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

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  • rick February 1, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    It would be great if the city gov’t had a response like this on blocked trails on public right-of-way in the city.

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  • m February 1, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Did you ever get a hold of the actual easement document to see if there are conditions for continued use of the area by the public such as maintenance or preventing nuisance issues? Interesting that Charlie said he wouldn’t respond well to taking the area “hostage” but then appears to have done just that.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 2, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Hi m,

      I just got the official easement document through a public records request with Parks Bureau. It appears from my reading that the Condo owners do not have the right to close the path for the reason of “safety” as they stated. They can exclude individuals who are creating a nuisance, but they can’t blanket exclude the entire public — at least not between hours of 6 am to 10 pm. But I’m no lawyer. Here’s the PDF and i’ve shared an image of salient portion below:

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      • Nomore Tents February 3, 2016 at 2:09 pm

        You quoted section 3. but should have quoted section 2. immediately above which requires the property owners to maintain in a “safe, sound, and usable condition”.

        Further it permits the property owners to suspend public access “when reasonably necessary for repair or maintenance work”. I suppose then you don’t agree that a trail frequented by children that is littered with needles is in need of maintenance?

        If the campers aren’t disbanded soon, I predict plenty of extended repair and maintenance closures this spring.

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  • MR February 1, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    “While the larger issue of homelessness looms over this issue and is of much greater concern to us than bikeway access,”

    I doubt that.

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  • S. Brian Willson February 1, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Unless unfettered capitalism is severely restrained, homelessness and grotesque disparities in income and wealth is inevitable. Homelessness is a symptom of a pathologically sick culture.

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    • Captain Karma February 1, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you, sir.

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    • Tim February 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Like under Stalin (20 million dead mostly starvation), or Mao (60 Million dead mostly starvation).

      The issue is a lot more complicated. I was homeless and living outside so I could afford school, others prefer drugs to housing, and many have mental illness, and a few prefer living out to conforming to society and holding a steady job. Transitional housing typically requires drug treatment and mental health related housing requires patients to stay on their meds. These are conditions that some homeless are not ready to accept regardless of funding. Help will not come from casting blame.

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    • jeff February 1, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      of which you are an entrenched member.

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  • Jim February 1, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    So, what again is the city doing in the name of public safety? I missed that evidently.

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  • Todd Hudson February 1, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Charlie Hales is really good at responding when something gets wildly out of control and he loses face in the media. Unfortunately, that’s what it takes to get a response from his administration.

    I can’t wait for this spring/summer, when all the Road Warriors (and their pit bulls) pour into town! It’ll get interesting fast

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    • Craig Gifen February 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Maybe we can get Inside Edition to do another story on crime in Portland.

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    • Audrey February 1, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      I had this same conversation with my husband just the other day… it’s JANUARY and things are this bad, what is going to happen in June?

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      • Mike February 1, 2016 at 3:08 pm

        Don’t worry – Everything will be cleaned up for a couple weeks this summer – you know, during fleet week.

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  • Otis February 1, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    While the container will certainly offer some needed services, I’m curious to see if it will actually impact the level of tents/camping at the site.

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  • Josh Chernoff February 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    ” I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage”

    unless you your homeless …

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    • Josh Chernoff February 1, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      unless you are homeless.****

      you know I think this will be my last typo here. I’m sure I will be missed….

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    • Spiffy February 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      or unless you’re a driver…

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  • Adam February 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    That storage container is hideous. But not as hideous as the terrible tarmac job they laid down to support it.

    It does nothing to make Waterfront Park a more attractive place to venture. It makes it look like a brownfield wasteland site.

    Look, I’m sorry if that’s not what anybody wants to hear, and it’s not the main issue for sure.

    But still.

    It’s HIDEOUS!

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    • Eric H February 1, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      I don’t know man, I think it ties the whole encampment together. Kinda like The Dude’s rug.

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) February 1, 2016 at 10:17 pm


      the storage container blends in, honestly.

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    • mill c February 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      My concern is visibility and congestion during my commute. The container makes it harder to see other traffic. It also encourages people to stand in the route of runners, walkers and cyclists that have to react quickly in low light conditions.

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  • Mike Sanders February 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    The Oregonian reported over the weekend that a new homeless camp popped up in Creston Park, off Powell Blvd. The caption to a photo of the site stated that Hales is not enforcing a no-camping law due to the size of the problem. One wonders: are these folks evictees fom the Steel Bridge site, or newcomers, or a mix of both?

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  • Pete S. February 1, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Seems like the storage unit is likely going to contribute to continued homeless activity in the area.

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    • Adam February 1, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      It legitimizes it, for sure.

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  • Dan February 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Fair’s fair. If Hales doesn’t want to do anything substantial, I feel the porch area at the Portland Building should also be fair game for camping. Maybe homelessness will become a real priority then.

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  • Oliver February 2, 2016 at 9:13 am

    ” Hales is not enforcing” “Hales doesn’t want to do anything ”

    On Aug. 6, the U.S. Department of Justice declared that when shelters are full, it’s unconstitutional to prosecute homeless people for sleeping outside”

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  • pdxtex February 2, 2016 at 11:12 am

    this entire situation is ludicrous. aside from the very real language in city code books that prohibit camping, they are also allowing this huge clusterf#ck to exist at a extremely inopportune spot.,lets see, large train corridor, check, 4 lane arterial street, yep, twisty bike path with users all day long, yep. now we are moving in day storage???? holy crap. what more enabling measures are they you going to take? you can be a humanist without tolerating this kind of sh!t. what a lazy way to serve the homeless population too. you can wallow in filth and continue to do drugs and we will allow it, but we wont offer any kind of formal guidance or additional housing. seriously, charlie hales and his constituents that actually think this is a acceptable alternative have consumed the purple kool aid.

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  • rachel b February 2, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Creston Park too. Fab. Portland is officially wiggy. I can’ t believe it’s come to this but–I’ve voted for every parks bond measure ever, all my (voting) life here in Oregon, and I won’t vote for the next one. Sick to death of not being welcome to use our own parks, trails, waterfront.

    And am now guessing the new orange line MAX line is next, since the mayor’s made it clear that ‘all homeless travel free’ and that he’s going to move Right 2 Dream to the foot of the Tilikum SE, damn the torpedoes and no matter what neighbors think. He (or his mouthpiece) says it’ll be great for us in SE. I can’t fathom why they think that, considering current Old Town neighbors were so miserable and desperate they bribed the City $800k+ to get the camp out of their backyard. Is that even legal?

    I really think the mayor and his staff need to move to one of these impacted areas, live in the thick of it, right next to it, like more and more of us do, thanks to him. And take MAX or the bus every day (the 4, preferably, where I look very carefully before I sit down). And ride the Springwater, and the Esplanade up and across the Steel Bridge every day and through Waterfront Park. Alone. Without a protective posse.

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  • bernie wick February 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    The population from under the Steel Bridge come onto McCormick Pier Condo private property several times during the day. They use our parking lot as a short cut to the small grocery store on Naito or just as another access to Naito Parkway. They rummage through the garbage sheds, looking for recyclables or using it as an enclosed area to shoot up. They canvas the porches of the condos and steal any packages in sight. One individual almost got caught yesterday by a security officer with a package in his hand, but lucky for him the train halted temporarily just before the officer arrived at the track area and he bolted over and between the stopped cars. At least every other day there are police, fire trucks, or ambulances attending to the population under the Steel Bridge. As I type this there is a fire truck just now attending to something under the Steel Bridge.

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