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Views from campers about the future of the tent city on Springwater path

Posted by on July 13th, 2016 at 9:56 am

trail motion

The Springwater Corridor near SE 82nd.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

It’s been a week since someone living on the Springwater Corridor survived a gunshot and months since it became maybe the largest single tent camp — tent suburb? — in Oregon.

Consciously tolerated by the city government under an uneasy compromise brokered by Mayor Charlie Hales and his (now former) chief of staff Josh Alpert, the encampment has gotten more and more complicated as it’s become a more common place for people without a roof to look for refuge. It’s also gotten harder for people biking on the Springwater to ignore. With Alpert gone from the city as of July 1, the camp’s future is newly uncertain.

Thacher Schmid (who I should disclose is also a personal friend of mine) is a freelance reporter based in Portland, writing in this case for his own website. He rode his bike to the camp last week and spent a few hours talking to people there about their lives and the city’s efforts to reduce, manage and regulate homelessness.

We found the post full of surprising details and definitely worth a read.

Depending on how you define a “camp,” the bicycle trail and footpath area between SE 82nd Ave. and the Beggar’s Tick wildlife refuge at 111th Ave. is possibly the largest homeless camp in the city of Portland, perhaps even all of Oregon.

It promises enormous challenges for any police officers, park rangers, advocates, officials or neighbors who would try to “sweep,” relocate or re-house these hundreds of campers.

It also suggests that the geography of poverty is a crucial aspect of the situation: for all intents and purposes, in Summer 2016, along the Springwater Corridor, the place is the people and the people are the place.

The people, Schmid writes, have definitely been affecting the place.

Furniture, including heavy items like dressers, are set to within inches of the Springwater Corridor itself in some places, suggesting how much work campers have put into their homes. Soccer ball sized rocks delineate pathways filled with wood bark leading to shared campsites, and some tents are lovingly cared for, with immaculate gardens featuring five-foot sunflowers nearing bloom.

Among other people, Schmid interviews the camp’s “self-appointed spokesperson,” a “highly intelligent, 34-year-old, self-described ‘hipster’ and laid-off aerospace steelworker” who goes by “Crash Anarchy,” identifies their gender as “your answers may vary” and wears a Guy Fawkes mask during the interview.

“We’re going to get kicked out next week,” Crash said. “They will lock people up when they come.”

Tom Alvarado, a customer at Cartlandia and local who often bikes down the corridor at perhaps a slower rate than the constant stream of Spandex-clad flyers, is sure the Springwater situation is becoming more precarious. Alvarado says recently he’s had to stop and basically ask permission from campers to bike through crowds blocking the path. He’s seen piles of feces on the trail itself for the first time in the last few days.

“It’s crazy,” Alvarado says. “It’s apocalyptic down there. It sucks all around: it sucks to be homeless, but it sucks to be someone who pays rent and deals with it.”

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Several other people talk about how they landed there.

“It all started with a little vacation,” Blaga explained, sober as a judge and munching on a burrito. “It,” as in: car accident, lower back pain, lost job, waiting for an insurance settlement, car thefts, wallet stolen.

Schmid, who recently went deep into Hales and Alpert’s new policy for legalizing and regulating small tent camps in an article for the Northwest Examiner, asks people there what they think.

Asked about Alpert and Hales’ Safe Sleep policy, and the possibility that Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler will be less tolerant of camping, Crash said that would be “awful.”

“The only reason we don’t have to be afraid to fall asleep is because we have each other,” Crash said. “Shuffling people up and down the bike trail and giving them exclusions is not fixing the problem.”

Safe Sleep allows for a maximum of 8 structures or individuals in a single campsite, so Camplandia is certainly not allowed under Safe Sleep or any other city policies, past or future.

Schmid’s report about people living on the Springwater is the first on his new Medium site about local poverty, called “Poor for a Minute.” If the subject interests you, check it out.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Saw and read his piece yesterday. The discussion of difficulty for the disproportionate POC/transgender community is especially troubling. One thing missing from the lede was the fire two days ago:
http://koin.com/2016/07/11/fire-burns-trees-on-springwater-corridor/

Occam means it was started (on purpose or accidentally) by people living right there. It doesn’t sound like any campers were injured or lost property.

This isn’t a “trail users vs homeless campers” issue; both parties are suffering, and it’s a really unfortunate situation.

Adam
Subscriber

The city should really be setting up designated campsites with bathrooms, running water, and garbage facilities. People are going to camp anyway, so instead of trying to restrict them, why not tolerate them and create a safer environment?

jeff
Guest
jeff

Very little of that article made any sense at all, including the quotes from ‘Crash’.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Regarding the comment about human feces recently appearing. That is definitely not the case. I have been dodging human feces on the Springwater for the last few months. And I refuse to ask permission to pass the groups blocking the path. Had a few close calls recently…

Cory P
Guest
Cory P

I have great concern about what affect these camps will have on future multi use paths in the region. How many neighbors will fight a new path because they fear homeless camps just off their backyards. I accept that the real risk of this is low but any excuse to appose could be damaging.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

For folks that don’t venture out the trail where the numbers start increasing – you can view the camps from the safety of PNCA starting next week. Lents Resident and drone Captain Adam Simmons is having an exhibition of footage and photos he shot along the Springwater and other sites around the city to document the camps.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHlQDN3Bc5C/

Jillian
Guest
Jillian

I think there is an error – this article says Crash Anarchy’s gender as “your mileage my vary”, but the linked article refers to their gender as “answer may vary”, which makes a bit more sense. I wasn’t sure what mileage had to do with gender…

Jon
Guest
Jon

I spent some time talking to a person visiting the company I work for on business from Pennsylvania. He said he was shocked at the number of camps he saw in Portland. He said there was nothing like that in the big cities in Pennsylvania.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

If this is now the largest set of homeless camps in the whole state, and who knows, maybe the largest in the NW – if I were the Metro Council, which funded the SWT’s construction originally, I’d be furious. The City and State governments have dropped the ball. Hales says he can’t do anything due to a court ruling in another state, to do anything about this. The fact that this situation is now so bad is only now starting to get noticed by local TV, notably KGW. This would be page one news in any other city but not here. Have our politics grown so bad that de facto ignorance is now standard policy? Remember, the SWT is on the Rails to Trails Cinservancy’s national Hall of Fame list. Shouldn’t that count for something?

still riding after all that
Guest
still riding after all that

My sympathy for the homeless comes to a screeching halt right here:

“Alvarado says recently he’s had to stop and basically ask permission from campers to bike through crowds blocking the path.”

Get them the HECK out of there so that those of us who PAY to live here can walk around or ride our bikes without fear of being attacked.

John
Guest
John

The city stopped patrolling the Springwater years ago due to an unwillingness to solve jurisdictional issues or commit basic resources. I remember back in 2011 or 2012 seeing open prostitution (TMI people), witnessing drug deals, getting harassed by intoxicated persons, and swerving to avoid human feces on the trail. This was ALL ON ONE RIDE. In subsequent years the homeless have gotten more and more aggressive. Just last week I was riding the section between OMSI and Sellwood and counted several dozen tents while smelling burning plastic and keeping an eye on unleashed pit bulls. I think the homeless population has grown to crisis levels in the last 18 months, but the dangerous situation on the spring water is the result of years of neglect by a City that won’t commit to even basic law enforcement. I think the Mayor’s rules regarding encampments are very reasonable and humanitarian, too bad they haven’t been enforced from day one.

For those of you about to suggest I host homeless people, let me say that I have – albeit involuntarily. I have a small condo in NW PDX i was able to afford years ago before prices became insane. From time to time people like to use my porch to sleep. Some are quiet and have a “leave no trace ethic”, but most leave garbage and a few have left human shit for me to clean up from my steps. They also tend to yell loudly at 3am due to mental illness, deafness, drugs, and/or all of the above. Not to mention all of the garbage and human shit under the 405, on he waterfront, and in the north park blocks…

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

Here is the bottom line. Word on the street is that Portland is the most hospitable to living outside. Or the other way to put it, it is the least the less hostile.

You are welcome Portland.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

It’s quite simple. You enforce the law. Post a 10 day notice. Anything left will be thrown away. Period.

Let them move some where else.

xpdx
Guest
xpdx

I wouldn’t give two shits how many people were camping near the trail if:

1. I rarely saw them.
2. They cleaned up after themselves
3. Didn’t block the path with objects or themselves- or leave dangerous glass in the path.
4. The policed themselves.

People have been camping along that trail for years. I would see them every once in a while and it never bothered me. I left them alone and they left me alone FOR YEARS. This isn’t what is happening now. They are not leaving me alone- they are blocking the path, they are aggressive, it’s a problem. I really really don’t care how many people camp there as long as they don’t bother other people.

I really wish they could just manage that. If I was one of those folks who managed to camp there for years under the radar, I would be PISSED at all of these new comers fucking it up for the responsible people.

SE
Guest
SE

For years I’ve trucked my bike over to the parking area at Beggars Tick to ride on SpringWater. There is parking for 4 or maybe 5 vehicles.
For the last 3 months + , two (now) permanent RV’s/minivans have been there (never moving). Now there is also a garbage trailer taking up a place too.
So 1 car (or if you squeeze in ..2) can park there, if you feel comfortable leaving your vehicle sandwiched between them.

I notified the city’s problem camper line … canned email response , that’s all. They have no interest if enforcing parking regs … essentially surrendering to our new residents.

Garbage, garbage everywhere…and not a city to help 🙁

SE
Guest
SE

KATU just reports that after a walk-thru , the estimate is between 800-1000 “campers” in the SpringWater/205 area. “It MAY be the largest homeless camp in the country”

WWeek: Springwater Corridor may be home to largest homeless camp in US
http://katu.com/news/local/wweek-springwater-corridor-may-be-home-to-largest-homeless-camp-in-us

http://www.wweek.com/news/2016/07/13/east-portlands-springwater-corridor-may-now-be-the-largest-homeless-camp-in-the-united-states/

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…Safe Sleep allows for a maximum of 8 structures or individuals in a single campsite, so Camplandia is certainly not allowed under Safe Sleep or any other city policies, past or future. ” schmid

The name “Camplandia”, is certainly whimsical. Kind of funny I suppose some people may think, but this phenomena of increasing numbers of makeshift residences forming a big camp, in a public park, is no joke. I presume the name refers to the biggest of the campsites along the Springwater.

In none of the comments or story, do I recall reading a count of the individual residences, i.e. tents, shacks, etc, or the number of people living there in those residences. And over what square feet of area the camp occupies. From descriptions give in comments here, it sounds as though this one campsite along the trail, may have thirty or more people living there.

Clean water and sanitary waste disposal, is essential to avoid outbreaks of serious illness. People commenting here have mentioned camp sanitation, or the lack of it. I’m wondering if the residents of this camp have shown the knowledge or incentive to build even so much as a basic community pit latrine.

In the near, or maybe longer term future, it may be, that cities will not be able to provide at the least, even the most basic shelter for many people that are homeless, or are soon to become homeless. In that instance, people in the makeshift camps, had better try work to put together the cleanest, safest campsite they can manage, with whatever they can cobble together.

At least initially, one of the strong points of Occupy Portland, though given, it was set up in the center of the city, close to some basic amenities, and had a very strong base of grass roots support, was its services organizational structure. It had a good kitchen, porta potties, wash stations. There were some smart, committed people helping keep Occupy going. Of course, Occupy did fall apart despite the tech and basic organizational efforts…but it may not have, if its location had been one less under the eye of the city, as land along the Springwater is.

SE
Guest
SE

The city is prepared to pay for motel space for homeless people on the cusp of getting housing, until they’re ready to move into permanent housing, instead of losing track of them after they leave the trail.

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/07/hales_springwater_corridor_to.html

if they are going to camp and there’s not a shelter for them, that they do that in small groups in places where they cause as few problems for their neighbors as possible.”

Will people get arrested if they camp on the trail after the cleanup?

“That’s the last resort,” Hales said. “Criminalizing homelessness and sending people to jail because they’re camping in the wrong place is not our first, second or third choice.”

SE
Guest
SE

Hales to PPB: ‘Your hands aren’t tied, do your job’
Portland Police Bureau “completely has the power” to deal with homeless

http://koin.com/2016/07/14/hales-to-ppb-your-hands-arent-tied-do-your-job/

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

Give folks free stuff, free land and amazingly….they flock.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Good article on Seattle’s homeless issues. They have taken a different approach than we have- notably, they have some partial solutions in place, rather than all-or-nothing. That includes ‘microhouse communities’ (which are emergency shelters, not DADU-style homes) and self-organized camps with city programs.
https://nextcity.org/features/view/tent-cities-seattle-housing-first-transitional-shelter

It has problems, of course:

The approach has critics other than Poppe. Across the country, policymakers are moving away from a transitional housing model that seeks to provide homeless people with temporary residence and supportive services like behavioral healthcare and job training in order to become “ready” before being permanently housed. The pendulum is swinging toward Housing First, a model that aims to give people permanent housing first, and address the causes that led to their homelessness second. Given that transitional housing programs cost dramatically more without providing measurably better outcomes, the move toward Housing First has been widely hailed as a step closer to resolving a deep social problem that has vexed communities for generations.

and a legal framework that certainly applies to Portland too:

A federal task force has discouraged cities from breaking up illegal encampments, saying that doing so only makes it harder for people to move into permanent housing. In one case, the Department of Justice ruled that it’s unconstitutional to criminalize sleeping on the street if there’s nowhere else for that person to go.