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Lents Active Watch: Neighbors Try To Understand Homelessness


A homeless camp in Beggar's Tick Wildlife Refuge.

A homeless camp in Beggar’s Tick Wildlife Refuge.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

In February, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales enacted a six-month plan to redefine where and how the city would support its homeless population. Included in this plan is the designation of approved homeless encampments at selected properties across the city.

Although Hales has said that his plan is a work in progress, some citizens – like Robert Schultz and Bob Santangello of Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood – say it is not nearly enough to address Portland’s homeless emergency. Because of their frustration with the city’s actions to resolve homelessness, Schultz and Santangello, along with others in the community, have started “Lents Active Watch,” a group of neighbors that meet on Sundays to walk the neighborhood, pick up trash and ultimately learn more about their homeless neighbors.

Robert Schultz is a resident of the Lents neighborhood in Southeast Portland.

Robert Schultz is a resident of the Lents neighborhood in Southeast Portland.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

Last week, Think Out Loud host Dave Miller walked through Beggar’s Tick, a wildlife refuge turned homeless encampment in Lents, with Schultz and Santangello. As they walked through the once protected preserve, Schultz voiced his concerns about the mayor’s plan to temporarily support encampments while building affordable housing.

“The idea that every one of these folks needs a brick-and-mortar house or a brick-and-mortar apartment is kind of like pie-in-the-sky thinking” Schultz said.

Many would be happy with dorm-room like settings or tiny homes or smaller structures that could provide a secure place to store their possessions and rest in a safe environment, he said.

Santangello agreed, saying that many of the homeless people they encounter in their neighborhood would not take advantage of emergency shelter beds supported by the city.

“If you set up a shelter around here … ask the campers, they won’t go in there because there’s curfews. They can’t drink. They can’t do drugs. They can’t bring their girlfriends. They can’t bring their dogs” Santangello said.           

Another error Schultz sees with the mayor’s plan is the lack of mental health care and drug addiction services, coupled with an understanding of why many people in Lents are actually homeless.

“In Lents, which is what I know best, I haven’t seen as many that have lost their home and are just on the street now,” Schultz said. “I’ve have seen more who have done a bunch of drugs, have an existing or developed a mental health issue, and have not had services to really rely on, and those services are not really being discussed in the mayor’s plan.”  

Santangello and Schultz also introduced Miller to two homeless occupants of Beggar’s Tick, Loren Kurth and Candy Butterfield.

Loren Kurth is a resident of the Beggers Tick homeless encampment in the Lents neighborhood.

Loren Kurth is a resident of the Beggers Tick homeless encampment in the Lents neighborhood.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

Kurth said he would much prefer to live in a home but is prevented from achieving employment and ultimately home residence because he does not have an ID or birth certificate. When given the choice between a city-run shelter and his current situation, Kurth stills prefers his campsite.

“There’s a lot of drugs. … They split you up; you can’t have couples; you can’t have dogs,” said Kurth, who also mentions that if he were in a shelter he wouldn’t be able to collect cans to earn money.

Butterfield, a woman living in the encampment next to Kurth, said that everyone there knows the steps they need to take to get out of homelessness, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Candy Butterfield is a resident of the Beggar's Tick homeless camp in Southeast Portland's Lents neighborhood.

Candy Butterfield is a resident of the Beggar’s Tick homeless camp in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

“You have to actually adapt to a lifestyle in order just to survive, and once you do that, then having to get back is mind blowing. … Every door you have ever had open is closed all of a sudden cause your homeless,” she said.

When asked what she thought of the rising numbers of homeless immigrants coming from other states to Oregon, Butterfield said: “You know you gotta be homeless somewhere I guess. And I’ve often said that if you’re gonna be homeless, you might as well do it in Portland. It is the Cadillac for that.”

So what’s the answer to Portland’s homeless problem? According to Santangello, there is no singular answer.

“I’ve come to the conclusion, and I think maybe that everybody should, that there is no answer.” says Santangello. “But there are some things we can do. Maybe get these guys in some kind of programs where we start helping them feel more. … I don’t know. … Give them something to desire, some worth.” he said.

affordable housing homeless Charlie Hales Portland housing

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