Homeless campers and family biking fears

I began by scouting Google Reviews for a new family bike adventure to Dairy Creek Park, near Downtown Hillsboro. It’s in good biking range from our home and looks like a beautiful park, especially since it includes wooded trails and a creek, thus it provides unstructured nature play, something that’s hard to find in urban areas. The park also has a playground, big soccer and baseball field, basketball court, and some little shaded picnic areas. Looks like a great spot!

This was not the kind of conundrum I expected when I began to plan a little bike outing.

Except, many of the Google reviews have a common, concerning thread:

“….If you go there, you will be treated by both the park attendants and the homeless residents like you do not belong there and are not welcome there….I have never been there without stepping in feces – dog and human alike. NOT a place for children. Or Washington County taxpayers for that matter….Stay away…”

“There was so much trash here it was disheartening. There is a large houseless camp here and going down trails we ran into multiple people in the woods, invading their space, and that was awkward with two young children with me….”

“When I went the place was full of campers and tents. It was dirty and gross. I was very surprised when I drove in and saw it. If I had kids there is no way I would take them there under current conditions.”

“….Don’t go in the woods! It’s disgusting!….Trash everywhere no place for kids.”

Hmmm…

When planning for new family bike adventures there are various considerations, usually related to the bike route: traffic, bike lanes or lack thereof, distance, terrain (no hills please!), and as we discovered on our very first try: Google’s bike routes aren’t always actually bike-able! There are also considerations about the destinations themselves: Does a park have play options that will appeal to various ages? Are there open, clean-ish, restrooms? Is there shade? What toys/supplies should we bring? Basketball? Tennis rackets? Picnic blanket? Towels for water play?

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Living outside of Portland proper, homelessness is a consideration I haven’t had to contend with, or even think about much: How does homelessness affect our planned park outing? And should it?

Biking is challenging me to consider issues I might otherwise be blind to, or more easily avoid in a car.

Or, after reading such reviews, how should a mom respond? By packing up the van and going somewhere else? But we are biking, and I really don’t want to give up on a gem of a park that is only a short bike ride away; I want to explore every park and place of interest in our little biking range. I don’t want to allow myself to be easily thwarted. I also don’t want to be foolish.

I turn over the reviews in my head, pondering the warnings against visiting the park with children, or at all. I try to pin down my actual fears, and whether they are warranted. As I discuss my concerns with my husband, he characteristically raises an eyebrow, challenging any presumption I make about the unhoused, “Oh really?” he says. “And what do you [rich white woman] know about it? The only homeless person you’ve ever known is the man you married!” (True story.) My now-husband was among unhoused campers, “A dangerous evil vagrant!” he says, mocking me.

Oh, yes, he’ll acknowledge concerns he thinks are valid: trash, feces, possibly drug needles and paraphernalia, drug addicts and mentally ill peoples’ unpredictable or even hostile behavior; but he doesn’t seem worried. He seems to think I can navigate any actual concerns as (or if) I encounter them.

A lot of unhoused persons are just folks. Folks without a roof at the moment, and certainly, recognizing low wages and astronomically high housing costs, among other things, it’s not that difficult to understand how they ended up camping in a park.

My husband smiles and returns to his weekend projects, without making any attempt to answer my actual question: “What should I do?”

“Whatever you think,” is all he said

This was not the kind of conundrum I expected when I began to plan a little bike outing. But it’s interesting how biking (compared to driving) has brought it to my attention. The issue as I see it is; how do we compassionately navigate the needs and rights of the unhoused, along with the safety, cleanliness, and rights of other members of the community to use parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, and public spaces? It is, perhaps, a defining issue of our times, for the City of Portland in particular, and even — to my naive surprise — out here in Hillsboro too.

Already, biking is challenging me to consider issues I might otherwise be blind to, or more easily avoid in a car. It’s placing me in more direct engagement with my community, since I am not planning to just drive somewhere else. I had thought my planned family bike outing was only going to involve examinations of traffic and a “scary” left turn. Instead, I am face-to-face with the important community issues of homelessness, parks, and shared spaces — alongside my own fears and ignorance of a reality that I have had very little contact with.

All for a bike ride.

A bike ride, it seems, I am going to have to take.

(Stay tuned for part two next week.)

— Shannon Johnson, shannon.marie.johnson915@gmail.com
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Nico W.
Nico W.
11 months ago

Yep, a lot of homeless are just folks Unfortunately, many are also unstable and violent especially in Portland. If you have kids with you it ups the ante. You’re less mobile, slower and obviously don’t want to traumatize them or God forbid have them get attacked or stuck with a drug needle. I unfortunately feel the need to err on the side of caution when riding with kids. Avoid most bike trails around Portland such as Springwater corridor and I205 path. Good luck.

NE_Rider
NE_Rider
11 months ago
Reply to  Nico W.

Same here. For years I tried to keep a positive attitude while riding with my young son through areas with a greater houseless presence. I used to especially like riding through the central eastside in the evenings and early morning but my son finally told me he feels scared and doesn’t want to ride there anymore. We live close in and he’s experienced houseless folks his whole life. It’s definitely become a limiting factor for us unfortunately.

Eric Murphy
Eric Murphy
11 months ago
Reply to  Nico W.

I’ve been verbally and physically threatened multiple times on the I-205 path. Won’t go back. Sadly between the abusive homeless and reckless drivers, riding in this city isn’t so great. Been doing more driving myself as a result.

bbcc
bbcc
11 months ago
Reply to  Nico W.

Stuck with a drug needle? I don’t think you need to worry about that.

I ride the springwater almost every day, often in a slow moving group. There are some people camping near the route. They mind their business. It is absolutely fine.

Dre'
Dre'
11 months ago
Reply to  bbcc

Lol.. you can’t see all the tents for the blackberries.. Just don’t end up like that one guy who got beat for his bike.. in other words, don’t stop pedaling.

Andrew L
Andrew L
11 months ago
Reply to  Nico W.

I just rode the Springwater a few days ago, it really is fine outside of some parts near Lents. The I-205 path though.. ouch

PdxPhoenix
PdxPhoenix
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew L

I went from the Goodwill Bins to out in Gresham last weekend, there were intermittent tents spread out until 122nd-ish(?), no where near as bad as several years ago where there were a couple stretches of near solid tents prior to 82nd-ish.

Cooper
Cooper
11 months ago
Reply to  Nico W.

A lot of drivers are just folks, too. Unfortunately, many are also unstable and violent. I can’t count the number of times I have been threatened or attacked by someone driving a car while I was biking. I have never been attacked by anyone living in a tent on a bike path.

Nico W.
Nico W.
11 months ago
Reply to  Cooper

Cooper
I’m guessing you don’t have kids. For some reason, I just don’t feel as much risk from redneck truck drivers when I have kids in tow. Mentally unstable or drug intoxicated seem more worrisome. Just how I feel given my experience.

Allan Rudwick
11 months ago

Did not go where I thought it would. Thank you for this

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
11 months ago

The homeless population is about to explode now that the eviction moratorium has expired. The gov’t set aside $46 billion to deal with the eviction problem even though only about $20 billion is owed to landlords. And of that only $3 billion been distributed. What’s going on here? Is there a math problem, or just another notch in America’s downfall.

Fit for biking
Fit for biking
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

I disagree. I think we’ll see there is minimal change. There are so many resources for people that are functioning well enough to be housed currently I’m not that concerned.

Serenity
Serenity
11 months ago
Reply to  Fit for biking

For people to benefit from those resources, they have to know also have to know what’s available. They have to be able to access said resources, and know how to navigate the system.

Adam
Adam
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

The eviction moratorium has been extended by order of CDC. This will face legal challenge, but will give states more time to distribute the funds they have had for like seven months already. Oregon is blaming software for slow distribution of funds,

Dre'
Dre'
11 months ago
Reply to  Adam

I doubt it’s “software”.. Hell.. took me 6 months to get unemployment, and I got shorted about 2 months this year.. the unenjoyment department will never get audited, and I bet my checks are in somebody’s offshore account.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
10 months ago
Reply to  Dre'

Corruption explains some problems with government, but incompetence explains many more.

Chris I
Chris I
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

We don’t have a housing problem, we have a substance abuse problem. The eviction moratorium won’t change much on the streets of Portland.

FDUP
FDUP
11 months ago

For every mentally ill, drug addicted or criminal person living on the streets, there are at least one or two more that are just down on their luck with no where else to go. Reagan and Bush turned a lot of these folks out on the street a long time ago, and the last decade hasn’t been so kind to them either; the wealthiest nation in history should be doing better for all of their poor people, on the street or otherwise. Maybe it’s time we started taxing the billionaires, obviously their ‘philanthropy’ isn’t quite cutting it!

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
11 months ago
Reply to  FDUP

Bringing back a tax on wealth would be a good start. Unfortunately, America no longer taxes wealth, it subsidizes wealth. It taxes work.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

A federal wealth tax would likely be unconstitutional, and the prospects of amending the Constitution to permit one seem… remote.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
11 months ago

Carry pepper spray (at the very least) and know how to discharge it when riding on MUPs in Portland metro areas.

Ben Fryback
Ben Fryback
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

I’ve not had that experience on MUPs in Washington County. Check out the paths run by THPRD, Tigard Parks, and Hillsboro Parks and Rec. We need more supportive services for these people so they don’t have to live on a path, they don’t want to be there either.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben Fryback

I get that there is a certain percentage of folks that don’t want to be there but, given the amount of help available, I would bet it’s a small percentage. Take a ride through my neighborhood (St.Johns/Portsmouth) sometime, you’ll quickly realize why I discourage my teenage daughter to use the MUPs or the streets that intersect them. I never thought I would have had to encourage her to drive around our neighborhood.

Rick
Rick
11 months ago

If the park is close to your home,I recommend evaluating it on a solo ride or by car before packing up the bikes. The Bike Portland forums may also be helpful for recent trip reports. Because of the haphazard nature of sweeps, an area that was really bad in 2019 may be less of a meth superfund site today. For instance, the I205 trail is Mad Max Fury Road right now while most of the Springwater trail is still pretty relaxed.The Beaverton Westside trail may be a good alternate plan because you have access to Tualatin Hills Nature Park and other parks without too many hills.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
11 months ago

I have to do deep research before taking my [very young] kids anywhere. We nearly skipped Gateway Green as the south side is closed to responsible parents. So glad the Maywood side is accessible (albeit camps and stolen cars just appeared within sight in the last 2 weeks). It’s gotten my kids even more into cycling…and a lifechanger for me after all this time cooped up watching them!

I wish I knew where the family friendly Springwater “ends” as I’d love to bring them, but don’t play games with their safety.

Dre'
Dre'
11 months ago

It goes to Boring, OR. And it’s pretty clean from Powell Butte on.. If you’re riding in the daytime, it’s pretty chill. I ride quite a bit at night, so I only use a front light.. don’t like to be followed.

Brandon
11 months ago

I ride the springwater everyday into downtown Portland from Johnson Creek. There is currently 1 tent on that stretch. I also ride out to Boring about once per week, there are tents in a few spots(mostly from 82nd to I-205) up to Powell butte, and then it is completely clear all the way to Boring. I see lots of families walking and riding the Gresham section of trail, and occasionally it is patrolled by Gresham PD.

Torrid
Torrid
11 months ago

I wouldn’t call google reviews the soul of accuracy, necessarily. Some people may be weaponizing the situation and either embellishing or creating a broad pattern out of anectodal incidents.

Nico W.
Nico W.
11 months ago
Reply to  Torrid

Maybe, but when you see a lot of reviews talking about the dangers there’s probably some truth to it.

Skip Spitzer
11 months ago

I ride with my 5 year old son almost everywhere, including MUPs. We just rode the Springwater Corridor Trail from Woodstock Boulevard to the Gresham Fairview Trail. Like throughout Portland, most homeless people were inside their structures or elsewhere. There were plenty of people using the trail. Homelessness is a growing condition of our time, and likely to get worse. Although you can be more isolated on a trail, there are dangerous people walking around all over the city, many not homeless. And you are probably much more at risk from drivers if you are riding in the streets, even in a good cycling city like Portland. You can assess actual likely place and time danger by using the city police’s crime maps. Closed-off places like the MUPs are safer if we all keep using them–so there’s actually a civic aspect to this issue too. I’d also say there’s little sense in trying to prevent children from seeing this kind of poverty–it’s all around and growing, and kids need to understand it and learn how to keep themselves safe in the real world before they are out on their own going where tweens and teenagers go. What better way than having it rationally explained and seeing it managed by a parent? All that said, it’s profoundly sad to see how poverty wrecks nature (though the rich do it vastly more), and it’s essential (on bike or otherwise) to be prepared to deal with violence in our society, wherever you are. The U.S. is the most violent industrial society in the world. There are good non-lethal protective devices like pepper spray. Above all, it’s important not to let social media reviewers define our world for us and to experience more fear than merited.

Maddy
Maddy
10 months ago
Reply to  Skip Spitzer

Skip, I ride my kiddos too, and agree with many of your points about not wanting to shield my children from seeing homelessness and poverty.

I ride as a 5’1 female, though. The advice you gave about just checking crime maps, packing mace and freely riding MUPs is very much easier for dudes. Would your stress level be higher if your kiddo was on the back of my bike?

Skip Spitzer
10 months ago
Reply to  Maddy

We all have to assess what feels safe for ourselves! The suggestions just may help in that process. For sure, some people are more vulnerable than others, especially women given misogyny and the extraordinary amount of violence against them. Even I don’t ride them freely (not at night, and with attention–as in similar parts of town). But it seems that the risks of those trails (at least by day) are overstated–not surprising given media disfunction.