Homeless campsites are coming back soon every time the city cleans them up

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City officials said they don’t remove sites that have fewer than eight tents and are clean with no apparent drug use.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Socks, deodorant and a floor mat were just some of the items a man stuffed into his backpack on the streets of southwest Portland Thursday morning. His friends call him Lobo. He has been homeless for 31 years.

“I’m getting ready to leave because we’re not allowed to be anywhere,” he said, pulling his red cart filled to the brim with backpacks and food. “It looks like they made it illegal to be a person in Portland.”

He was sitting outside a business on Southwest Washington Street when city crews told him to move.

“It’s demoralizing,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m inferior to the lowest of the human class.”

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Across the street, Jackie James swept the sidewalk outside his tent on Southwest 4th and Stark. She moved to this area on Wednesday after city crews evacuated her from another site. She said the city swept her campsite 18 times.

“At this point it feels like a routine, you know, so I don’t think about it too much,” she said. “I’m not going far, you know, I’m just going somewhere where I can sit and try to think of the next move.”

When the city cleans up campsites, staff provide people with free transportation to nearby shelters. James said she accepted the offer once, but it ended up not being for her.

“You have to come in and out at a certain time and it just wasn’t right for me at the time,” she said.

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Josh Barett, who works at the Portland Outdoor Store down the street, said he looks at homeless campsites going in and out of the neighborhood like a revolving door.

“They just turn around the corner and set up right there, same situation,” he said. “It’s like this business takes a break and then they move it, so it’s like, ‘when is it our turn again?'”

City officials who spoke to KGW said they know that cleaning up campsites is only a temporary fix and they are firm in their position that homelessness is not a crime, but their goal is to minimize the impact of urban camping on the community.

Camps are only removed if they violate city health and safety guidelines, officials said — for example, the city likely wouldn’t remove a site that has fewer than eight tents, clears walkways and stays clean , with no apparent drug use.

Although any camp can be removed without a formal assessment under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s declaration of emergency, according to the Street Services Coordination Center, most are assessed under an elaborate list of criteria. The number of tents and the visibility of drug use are just two of the many aspects that may constitute grounds for dismissal.

RELATED: About 260 Portland homeless shelter beds go unused every night

Even so, close neighbors of some of the recurring campsites said they felt neglected by the city.

“It’s like a cancer all over town,” said Charles Reed, who said he saw the same camp outside his apartment on Southwest 3rd Avenue and Pine Street getting cleaned three times since late June.

“It’s really disheartening because I don’t think we’re getting the answer, as ratepayers, from the county and the city of Portland,” he said.

City officials have said they hope to one day find a broader solution, but at the moment they lack the resources to prevent people from returning to the same sites. They encouraged residents to continue to report problematic campsites to PDX Reporter or by calling the city’s information and referral team at 311.

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