Portland cleans up homeless boat encampment known as 'Pirates of the Columbia River'

A significant portion of the border between Washington State and Oregon is the Columbia River. Recently, people entering Oregon on Interstate 5 would cross a bridge and immediately see a mess of vandalized boats tied up near Hayden Island in the center of the river.


At the base of the Interstate Bridge on Hayden Island are two old military vessels — the Alert and the Sakarissa. Ownership issues have left the ships vulnerable. Within the past year both have been boarded, damaged and tagged by people living in a growing homeless camp on the shore next to the ships.

“You can kind of see the progress over the months. They’ve been completely vandalized. They’ve now been broken into. I can only imagine what has been taken and stolen from the insides,” said Sgt. Steve Dangler of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s River Patrol Unit.

In addition to being an eyesore for people on the bridge, the site has become a location connected to frequent thefts from other residents of Hayden Island. In fact, that’s where this group of homeless people picked up their nickname.

“The Pirates of the Columbia,” said Carol Kersley whose boat was stolen, “because they steal anything that’s not nailed down.”

Earlier this month KATU did a story about the situation. The leader of a group called the Waterfront Organizations of Oregon told the channel, “The pirates raid our communities. They threaten our people. They steal our property.” He added, “This has got to come to an end.”

The good news is that the KATU story seems to have prompted some action. Yesterday, crews showed up to clear out the area:

Along the shore, there used to be a homeless camp and piles of garbage.

That is now being cleared and cleaned up by a crew contracted by the property owners. They removed the old gang-plank that let people get from ship to shore, loaded it onto a trailer, and hauled it away…

Contractors say the clearing and clean-up should be done in the next day or two. The boats may take a while longer, but the River Patrol says the family who owns them is working on getting them out of the water.


One of the people who has been living in the boats seems to have been offended by being called a pirate. He claims he’s bagged up trash and isn’t doing any harm. But it’s clear from the before and after pictures that the boats have been heavily vandalized and police say at least one person has drowned at the site.

The law-free zones for the homeless don’t work out for anyone, certainly not the neighbors who become victims of theft used to support people’s drug habits. KATU’s report on the clean up is worth a look but unfortunately it can’t be embedded so you’ll have to click here for that.

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David Strom 2:40 PM | July 24, 2024
David Strom 12:40 PM | July 24, 2024