Last month I wrote about a dispute between the city of Portland and one neighborhood where homeless campers were creating a nuisance. There’s a fairly long backstory here which has to be explained for this to make sense. This all started with one woman named Tiffany Hammer (that’s her above) who decided she’d had enough of homeless encampments in her neighborhood after she and her son were attacked by a man living on a strip of land near the freeway. Hammer got together a few of her neighbors and raised several hundred dollars to clean up the garbage that goes with the tent camps. In order to discourage homeless people from returning to the site, the group planted 90 rose bushes and placed ribbons around them to signal that people in the neighborhood cared about the space.
Instead of applauding the neighborhood for cleaning up the area and trying to do something to prevent it becoming a mess again, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) that owned a portion of the land demanded the rose bushes be removed. But the best part was the reason that ODOT offered:
“We are asking that those be removed because they could be safety hazards, a distraction to drivers and actually contribute to trash in the area if they don’t stay tied to the roses,” Beers Seydel explained.
So, ODOT couldn’t be bothered to do anything about the tent camp, drug needles, human waste, and other assorted garbage, but the moment someone planted bushes with ribbons they demanded they be pulled out to avoid generating garbage. Perhaps realizing this was absurd, ODOT eventually backed down.
But then the city decided that it would launch a new program for the homeless in the same neighborhood. The program consisted of leaving a trailer with lockers and a porta-potty parked on street near where the homeless often camp. When the trailer arrived there were no tents in evidence, but a week later the entire area had become a camp. It almost seemed as if the city was trying to punish Tiffany Hammer and other local residents for complaining at a previous City Council meeting.
Meanwhile, some of the rose bushes were pulled up by homeless campers. When Hammer and another neighbor went to the area to water the other bushes a homeless man attacked them. That turned out to be the last straw:
“My neighbor was helping me water roses a few weeks back and he was bent down watering and a homeless camper unprovoked, didn’t say one word, just came up with a brick and attacked him,” Hammer said.
This week, ODOT removed the roses and brought in the giant boulders.
“We’ve been using these boulders more aggressively, we’re probably going to be spending upwards of a million dollars in the Portland area to get these boulders in, which are really the most effective tool we have,” explained ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton…
“ODOT did the right thing,” Hammer said.
I have no idea what caused the change of heart but ODOT seems to have come around over the past few months. KGW8 ran a poll for viewers of this story on whether or not they support ODOT’s use of boulders for this purpose and 89% of respondents said yes. Here’s KGW8’s report. Stick around for the slightly downbeat last shot though. This may be a big improvement but it hasn’t solved the problem.