Police clear out Steel Bridge homeless camp

People living at the site had been warned that a sweep was impending

Police at a homeless camp underneath the Steel Bridge in Portland, Feb. 25, 2016 (KOIN)
Police at a homeless camp underneath the Steel Bridge in Portland, Feb. 25, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After receiving numerous complaints about public safety, the city of Portland took action on Thursday and cleared out a homeless camp under the Steel Bridge.

About a dozen officers responded, including officers assigned to the bureau’s Neighborhood Response Teams and Street Crimes Unit.

Officers moved in around 9 a.m. and set up crime scene tape to prevent people from entering the area that was cleaned.

A graffiti removal team stood by along with a crew that rinsed down the sidewalk once police have finished.

Although crime scene tape had been set up, police on scene said there was no danger to the public. The Waterfront Park Trail remained open to the public.

The abatement process took several hours. People living at the site had been warned that a sweep was impending. The city posted signs last week informing the campers that they would need to leave.

According to police, the following is what they found at the camp:

-22 tents
-50 campers
-Several stolen items, mostly computers and tablets
-100s of needles
-Multiple bottles of urine and feces
-2 dead rats

Crews also hauled off 5 trailer loads of garbage. Additional cleaning occurred Friday morning.

According to the mayor’s office, homeless people can camp on property that is outdoor and open to the public. Tents and temporary shelters are allowed but can’t set up on the sidewalk or in a parking space. Those tents and shelters can only be set up between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and there can only be 6 or few people sleeping at one location.

Camping in city parks, which was happening at the base of the Steel Bridge, is not allowed, the mayor said.

Mayor Charlie Hales said since the city declared a housing emergency four months ago, 400 emergency shelter beds have opened up. Hales said that progress is being made on several front when it comes to reducing the city’s homeless problem:

– There are now guidelines for people who are outside sleeping
– The city is moving fast to open more shelter beds
– The city is increasing its commitment affordable housing

“We want people to sleep safely until they can get into something like Right 2 Dream Too and move from there into real housing because no one should be sleeping in a tent in Portland, Oregon for the long term,” Hales said.

Hales said that consistent sweeping of homeless camps can be traumatizing to those living at the sites.

“Now we have a much more coordinated effort and this really illustrates it,” Hales said.

He points to the fact that on Thursday’s sweep, outreach workers were on hand to help direct people to three designated camp sites.

According to police and the mayor, the homeless were told to go to Hazelnut, Dignity Village and Forgotten Realms – all of which are large scale homeless camps that have some sort of social-services connection to them.

Late Thursday, the mayor’s office said the 3 sites recommended by police may be full or at capacity. The mayor’s staff would inform police and would be relying the city’s current camping laws, as stated above.

The mayor said there is still a lot of work ahead of them, especially before summer.

“I would say no, we’re not moving fast enough. We’re moving faster than the city probably has ever before, but we’re not moving fast enough.”

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