PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As icy temperatures forced emergency shelters to open across the city this week, Oregon Department of Transportation crews were busy sweeping a homeless camp in Southeast Portland.
Many wondered if the sweep had to do with the cold spell, or if the agency took weather in consideration before asking people to leave the campsite.
While ODOT doesn’t have the power to force people out of camps — only police can do that — they can still ask for campers to leave. When crews went out to the camp on SE 92nd Avenue and Flavel Street on Tuesday, they were reportedly following through with a notice that was posted long before the cold weather set in.
- Severe weather night and day warming centers are open in Gresham and Portland tonight. Anyone seeking shelter should call 211info by dialing 211, toll free, from any phone. 211 will help identify the closest available shelter and transportation options. Complete list of Multnomah County Shelters
Homeless advocate Craig Hipple was back out at the camp on Thursday where only a few tents remain.
“They really need a place to go because there’s a lot of them out here that don’t even have a tent,” Hipple said.
ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton told KOIN 6 News, whenever cleanup notices are posted at campsites, it’s for safety reasons and not because of weather conditions.
“We had some illegal campers right next to the highway, which is inherently dangerous, especially when cars on the road are maybe skidding and sliding around,” he said. “We asked them to leave and they did… they took their personal belongings.”
But campers like one man named “Westside” claim ODOT crews did far more than simply ask them to leave the no trespassing area.
“They took stuff that was left, they took stuff that people were still trying to move,” Westside said. “They’d come in and take somebody’s stuff when they were just putting their load somewhere else.”
Hamilton denied those accusations, claiming ODOT officials at SE 92nd Avenue and Flavel Street cleaned up trash that was left behind. He said crews know not to take personal property away from people, especially when it’s cold outside.
At the same time, Hamilton said ODOT has an obligation to make sure taxpayer’s property — including the area the campsite was on — is taken care of.
“ODOT has no authority to force people out of here,” he said. “It’s cold out. We don’t want people out there, we want them in these warming shelters.”