Plaza campers won’t get federal protection

A City Hall camper moves his belongings from the sidewalk across the street to Terry Shrunk Plaza, July 23, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
A City Hall camper moves his belongings from the sidewalk across the street to Terry Shrunk Plaza, July 23, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It has been almost a month since campers were evicted from the sidewalk outside Portland City Hall.

But they didn’t go far. Many of them moved directly across the street, to Terry D. Schrunk Plaza.

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Terry D. Schrunk Plaza “residents” prepare food off a camping stove Aug. 14, 2013, at the federally-owned Portland park. (KOIN 6 News)

The plaza is owned by the federal government. As such, the city cannot get involved or send police officers unless they are asked to assist.

Portland-resident Michelle Brooks remembers just a few weeks ago, when the sidewalks outside city hall were packed with Occupiers and homeless campers.

“It used to be really bad on this corner,” Brooks said. “…I’d see a group of individuals go and shoot up in the bushes, and it made me feel uncomfortable sitting at this bus stop here.”

As of July 23, homeless campers and occupiers outside Portland City Hall were evicted — and forced to move off the sidewalk. The blocks around city hall are now “pedestrian only” during daytime hours. But many of the protesters moved right cross the street to the federal plaza.

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On Wednesday, Aug. 14, Terry D. Schrunk campers were setting up tents, eating and playing instruments like this one at the federally-owned park. (KOIN 6 News)

On a given night, more than 100 people camp there, camper Jose Serrica told KOIN 6 News. And they’re not planning to leave any time soon.

Why did they move across the street?

“Well, No. 1 it’s because we can get federal protection from the federal government, to some degree,” Serrica said.

On Wednesday, campers were eating and playing instruments at the plaza. A sandwich ministry was passing out food, and demonstrators were setting up tents. A few Department of Homeland Security officers walked through the park, as they routinely do, and spoke with people.

Everything’s changed,” said homeless camper Mark Hofheins. “It’s a much more positive vibe now. We’re working towards being more positive rather than everyone for themselves. We’re coming together now.”

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Homeless camper Jose Serrica told KOIN 6 News he moved to Terry D. Schrunk Plaza “because we can get federal protection.” (KOIN)

Still, even though the scene was peaceful Wednesday, passers by said they don’t feel safe with what’s going on in Terry Schrunk Plaza.

“They leave trash around and stuff and they don’t clean up after themselves,” said one observer. “If they cleaned up after themselves and didn’t panhandle aggressively, maybe I’d feel OK going to that park.”

But Serrica said, “Honestly we don’t mean to impact the citizens of this city. We need the compassion, you know. We need the help.”

But help in the form of a free campsite on federal land changed Wednesday night. The feds are taking action.

KOIN 6 News contacted the U.S. General Services Administration. Public Affairs Officer Sally Mayberry said as of Wednesday night officers will enforce curfew. She sent KOIN 6 News a statement:

“GSA allows for peaceful demonstrations and community use of  public space under our jurisdiction. In the interest of safety and preserving the property, anyone remaining on the plaza after the posted hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. will be asked to leave. Federal Protective Service will begin to notify individuals still on the plaza at 10:00 p.m. that they must evacuate the premises until 7:00 a.m. when the plaza reopens.”

Dana Haynes, communications director for the city of Portland, said the effort will take a “coordinated effort by everybody.”

Update: Private security at the Edith Green Federal Building across from the plaza came in Wednesday night to make sure the campers were gone. Most had already packed and relocated to the sidewalks, just adjacent to the park.

And, though for the most part the camp has been peaceful, KOIN 6 News has learned that on Tuesday afternoon that changed.

On Tuesday, 20-year-old Mark Allison was arrested and charged with threatening to kill a federal officer. The charge came after two agents used bolt cutters to remove a bicycle chained to a tree in the park and, according to court documents, were confronted by angry campers.

Homeless camper Angel Lopez was one of them.

“He went and pushed me,” Lopez said of the agent. “And I wanted to hit him, but I wasn’t going to, just because of the fact that he’s an officer.”

Lopez was cited for failure to comply with a lawful direction, and released. But he, and the roughly 100 or so others at this encampment, will now have to find another place to sleep.

As for such plaza campers as Travis Lewis, where will they go now?

“Wherever the wind takes me I guess.”

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