Beaverton wrestles with homeless campers issue

Public hearings are planned in the not-distant future

One of the spots in Beaverton where homeless people live in their vehicles or campers, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)

BEAVERTON, Ore. (KOIN) — Josh Kelvin, his wife and 3 kids have lived in an RV on the streets of Beaverton for about 3 months. A couple years ago, Kelvin said, he injured his back working and it’s tough to find a job.

His wife works fulltime as a certified nursing assistant, but they ended up having to leave their apartment when their rent went beyond what they could afford and they had to leave.

Now, the family of 5 — with kids 16, 14 and 10 — live in “a 30 foot space” as they look to find permanent housing.

“A lot of people like to lump us into the same group as homeless and don’t want to get out of it — but we do.” — Josh Kelvin

Living there is “demeaning, disheartening, in some ways good. I talk to my neighbors more than I ever used to when I was paying rent down there,” Kelvin told KOIN 6 News.

“But everybody else and their grandmother wants to come up and call me and my kids bad names and tell me I’m not a man.”

He said he’s made to feel like “a second-class citizen” because “we can’t afford to pay rent.”

Nan is 71 and found herself staying with a friend in an RV at 5th and Western in Beaverton after she got a no-cause eviction from her apartment in Portland. She said she couldn’t afford rent somewhere else.

“Even a one-bedroom was over $1000 (a month),” she said. “I can’t believe at my age that this has happened to me.”

Both Josh Kelvin and Nan understand how residents in the neighborhood are pushing for an ordinance to keep homeless campers and so-called zombie RVs off the streets of Beaverton. Kelvin said he feels the city is “now looking for ways to criminalize us.”

Nan added, “I don’t think you should judge anybody until you really get to know them, but then I can understand people’s fear of the unknown.”

On October 3, the Beaverton City Council held a work session about the issue of camping on city streets.

Holly Thompson with the City of Beaverton, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)
Holly Thompson with the City of Beaverton, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)

The city’s Holly Thompson told KOIN 6 News they get calls every day from people in the community who are concerned about all the issues involved with homelessness, including safety.

One location in particular has about a dozen trailers where people sleep.

“There’s a park that is just off of a path through that location that is a major connector point for people going to and from the downtown,” Thompson said. “We have a high school in the area whose track team runs through there. So, people are really concerned at seeing a collection of this camping growing in Beaverton.”

Beaverton currently has no city code that prohibits people from sleeping in vehicles or campers on city streets. The recent city council work session looked at other Oregon cities codes to help guide how Beaverton responds, she said.

Josh Kelvin, his wife and their 3 children are currently living in an RV on the streets of Beaverton, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)
Josh Kelvin, his wife and their 3 children are currently living in an RV on the streets of Beaverton, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)

“I think can all agree we don’t want people sleeping on city streets. That’s not ideal,” Thompson said. “We want to get people into housing. So how do we look at maybe passing an ordinance that prohibits sleeping on city streets but at the same time combine that with a compassionate response that makes sure that we’re putting resources on the table, partnering with social service agencies and trying to get people on a path of housing stability?”

Beaverton resident Paula Montejano lives about 3 miles from the main location where the campers are parked. She said she drives past it every day and feels bad for the people who are there. But she also worries about things like sanitation.

“In Portland, there was a huge problem. There was trash everywhere, so that’s the kind of thing I worry about,” Montejano said. Beaverton city leaders, she said, “need to figure out something.”

In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle said:

“We want to find the common ground where we are responding to our resident’s community safety concerns and balancing that with a compassionate response. We are working with community partners to connect people to appropriate social services. I’ve asked staff to bring council several options that address homeless camping on public streets over the next few weeks.”

Before anything is decided there will be public hearings held on the issue.

Josh Kelvin said living in a camper on the streets of Beaverton has “been awful, to say the least. … A lot of people like to lump us into the same group as homeless and don’t want to get out of it — but we do.”

Then he said, “We’re going to get out of here sooner rather than later.”

One of the spots in Beaverton where homeless people live in their vehicles or campers, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)
One of the spots in Beaverton where homeless people live in their vehicles or campers, October 10, 2017 (KOIN)