Portland's homeless camps can be found on its rivers as well

The city of Portland has a serious homeless problem on the streets and sidewalks. This week KGW8 reports the problem is also spilling out onto the city’s rivers. Homeless people have been livng in abandoned fiberglass boats on the Willamette and Columbia rivers. And because these boats are already falling apart, they rarely have a way to pump out sewage they accumulate, so that ends up being dumped in the river. In fact, the boats themselves often end up sinking to the bottom where they can leak sewage, oil, and battery acid into the water. From KGW8:

Photos provided to KGW by Walt James with the Columbia Watershed Environmental Advocates show derelict boats tied off to one another, with no working sewage pump. Others are half sunk, leaking fluids into the water.

“Most of the boats that were floating are now sunk, there’s eight or 10 sunk boats down there,” James said…

He took more photos last week of where homeless boaters come ashore along Marine Drive. What was a couple of campers and garbage has exploded into a full blown environmental hazard. And so has the amount of crime at nearby private floating homes.

“We’ve all had things stolen,” said Karen Dean, a 23-year owner and resident of floating home in Class Harbor. “We’ve had two boats that have been taken and we found them down river and they’ve all been stripped.”

There’s a pretty clear reason this is happening. When you have an old car that doesn’t run, there’s a scrap market for the parts and materials. Even the steel that the car’s frame and body are made of is worth something to a salvage yard. There’s a similar market for old boat parts but not for the fiberglass hulls. The only option for getting rid of a fiberglass hull is to take it to a dump and pay as much as $3,500 to have it shredded. That’s a lot of money to be rid of something you’ve decided is trash. It’s much easier for owners to offer the boats for a little money on Craigslist or to simply abandon them on the street somewhere.

That’s how the homeless wind up with these floating wrecks. And just like the homeless camps on land, the city doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to do anything about it despite the long-term cost of cleaning up this mess.

So who cleans this all up? The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office says its dive team can take care of very small boats in shallow water for between $300-$800.

It doesn’t happen very often because their budget doesn’t allow for it. But larger cases are decided on by the Oregon State Marine Board, who bids out jobs to private contractors to yank these sunken boats up.

The sheriff’s office says it can start around $8,000. There’s a toxic 40-foot transient boat that sunk in 2016 at Chinook Landing near Troutdale, and the bid to get it is $60,000. The Marine Board’s budget is $150,000 for every two-year term. Nothing has been decided on that boat yet.

As you’ll see in this clip, the local authorities were spurred to a little action back in 2016 when KGW8 reported on the problem but since that time they’ve mostly returned to ignoring it.