Portland mayor says efforts to move homeless camps away from schools is going well but residents say otherwise

Last month, Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler vowed to remove homeless camps that exist along the sidewalks near public schools. The idea was to give kids and their parents confidence that they would be safe walking to school. Since then, the city has removed dozens of homeless camps and in an interview published yesterday by KGW 8 Mayor Wheeler claimed the effort was going very well.

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Mayor Wheeler: “The executive directive that leads to the clearing of safe routes to schools has gone very well. We’ve removed about 50 camps. That started mid-August and by and large we haven’t had any problems.”

But Mayor Wheeler’s confidence about how the effort is going seemed to collapse almost immediately when he was questioned.

Blair Best, KGW Reporter: “How is the city enforcing that people don’t come in right behind them and camp in that same location near the schools?”

Wheeler: “We do expect that to happen. One thing we’ve learned, once we clear an area typically people will come back even though there is no right to return. But this is really about sitting down and explaining one on one with individuals. We aren’t telling them they can’t camp in the city of Portland. In this case, what we’re telling them is there’s very specific reasons why they cannot camp on the safe route to school. That has to do with health, that has to do with safety of our kids and the vast majority of people understand and they do comply.”

Best: “There are some campsites near schools, specifically near the Metropolitan Learning Center in Northwest where campers there told me on Sunday that they’re camping in protest of this ban. They’re not leaving, so what is your response to that and what is your response to the parents that know this and don’t feel safe sending their kids to school?”

Wheeler: “Well, we’ve got to combine those two things, right? The reality is we always expect people to protest or to push back or some people to come back. But again, this is based on the reality that kids are walking around camps by walking into traffic to get around camps. That’s not safe for the kids and when we sit down and we explain to the campers why we are specifically moving them out of these safe route to school corridors, the vast majority understand. For those that are protesting, we will go back. We will repost, we will re-explain, we will offer services to those individuals — shelter, transportation, storage for their items.”

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The city may be planning to go back to these areas where homeless campers have moved back in shortly after being cleared out but Wheeler said the city received 3,140 complaints about campsites just last week. So there are clearly a lot of camps that need revisiting and it’s anyone’s guess when they’ll get back to this particular one.

The KGW reporter, Blair Best, was specifically referencing a story she reported a few days ago about a camp that was cleared twice last month but which is still full of homeless people using drugs near a school. One of the camp residents claimed they were protesting the city by refusing to remove their tent.

“I’m just keeping my tent here for protesting reasons,” said Joseph Reandeau, whose tent is on the corner of Northwest Hoyt and 19th Avenue. It was posted for removal on September 1, since it’s within 150 feet of a school…

“I could move my tent today if I wanted to, but it’s more of just a moral thing — I want to protest for a few days. I believe that our city and our government should give us more resources,” they said.

A neighbor who lives across the street from the camp said she’s had enough and is trying to leave.

“They keep saying they’ll clean it up and it’s still sitting here — all the junk, I mean. It’s been weeks,” said Michelle Scott, who lives across the street from the Metropolitan Learning Center. She walks the neighborhood five times a day.

Scott said she’s trying to break her lease due to the camps.

“They walk around, and they pee and poop wherever they want to, they have their pants down. I don’t understand how they can have this around children.”

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It doesn’t really sound like a success to me. Mayor Wheeler was also asked about recent reports about people like Michelle Scott and many others who are looking to move away from Portland because of the problems and the city’s seeming inability to do something about them.

Wheeler: “They’re selling into the low. I’d strongly recommend against it if they’ve stuck around this long to the point where we’ve not put these programs and infrastructure. We’re starting to see the positive results. This isn’t the time to pack up and quit. I want people to work with us, not get mad and leave. Fine, get mad at me, scream at me, but work with me.”

This has been going on for years. How long does the mayor expect people to put up with it exactly?

There’s one more addendum to this story. Today ten residents of Portland have filed an ADA class action lawsuit against the city. They say having the sidewalks clogged with tents is harmful to those with disabilities.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by five Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys including John DiLorenzo, demands that the city immediately sweep all tents from sidewalks while litigation is ongoing.

The lawsuit’s argument hinges on a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that identifies sidewalks as a “service, program, or activity” within the city that must remain accessible for those with disabilities.

“The City has failed and continues to fail to maintain its sidewalks clear of debris and tent encampments, which is necessary to make its sidewalks readily accessible to people with mobility disabilities,” the lawsuit reads. “Indeed, a substantial number of the City’s sidewalks—particularly those in the City’s busiest business corridors—do not comply with applicable federal statutes and regulations because they are blocked by tent encampments and attendant debris, rendering the sidewalks inaccessible, dangerous, and unsanitary for people with mobility disabilities.”

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Maybe this lawsuit will finally force the city to do what the mayor has not been able to do on his own. Here’s the KGW report referenced above.

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024
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