BikePortland

North Portland neighborhoods request clear paths in homelessness statement


“We request that the City of Portland clear campsites located in parks, waterways and public paths.”
— from a statement signed by four north Portland neighborhoods

Four north Portland neighborhood associations have issued a joint statement about homelessness. Among their requests is that government agencies work harder to clear campsites located in parks and on public paths.

Throughout the city, vital parts of the transportation network are blocked and/or dominated by peoples’ homes, belongings, and trash. Without enough places to live or social services to help them get off the streets, thousands of Portlanders sleep along streets — often directly adjacent to bike lanes and carfree paths. These paths are often in places where surface streets are unsafe, unconnected, or for some other reason not a safe alternative for bicycle users and walkers. This has led to a sad, complicated and frustrating problem for everyone.

Bicycle users are viscerally aware of this issue. BikePortland has fielded questions and concerns about it for years, ever since people started creating camps along the Springwater Corridor path in 2014. Last year we reported that conditions on the I-205 path had reached an unacceptable level and just this week a reader shared that some of the camps remain. For many people, this means many local paths are no longer an option.

In the joint statement posted yesterday, the neighborhoods of Bridgeton, Arbor Lodge, Overlook and University Park say Covid-19 has made a bad problem worse and that it’s time to respond.

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A reader sent us this email on Monday.

“It is imperative we find common ground that unites the needs of those suffering from homelessness and the communities who see their neighborhoods descend into lawlessness and blight,” stated Bridgeton Neighborhood Association Chair Tom Hickey in an email that included the joint statement. “For too long, many in the housed communities in Portland have treated the unhoused as an invasion that must be pushed away in order to preserve the quality of life that they have created in their communities,” Hickey continued. “For too long, the city has responded to the crisis by allowing the degradation of public health and rule of law in the unfettered chaos of unsupported, unmanaged curbside camping.”

The neighborhoods are calling for a “third way,” a compromise that leads to construction of new shelters and organized villages while, “the unhoused must concede to community standards of social behavior.”

The statement includes a list of short-term and long-term solutions like: more housing in motels and hotels, the creation of more safe and sanctioned camping locations, more washing stations, regular garbage pick-up, access to public transportation, more social services, and so on.

When we covered this issue in relation to path conditions last year we shared a response from PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. She made it clear that it’s “unacceptable to sweep people when we don’t have viable alternatives to offer them.” Eudaly acknowledged the lack of available housing. “There is literally nowhere for them to go — this is a local, regional, state, and national crisis.”

Eudaly also offered said she understands the frustration of bicycle users who often come face-to-face with, “dangerous infringement on our designated bike lanes and paths” and she urged compassion. “People experiencing homelessness are our neighbors and community members. They are suffering. And our entire society is failing them. I hope more people can keep these harsh realities in mind when they encounter scenes like these.”

More than a year later, the problem is even more severe. In north Portland specifically, there is a large group of people living along the Peninsula Crossing Trail (that stretches between Willamette and Columbia). If this joint statement can lead to more compassion and cooperation between neighborhood leaders, campers, and local government, maybe we can make some progress. Stay tuned.

North Portland Joint Statement on Homelessness

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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