About 100 people who had been living in an encampment near Laurelhurst park were displaced in November when the city of Portland removed their makeshift homes.
Tyler Hardy was among them. Hardy started camping in the park in March after losing his job and his housing. Hardy told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” that it had been hard to find more jobs doing construction work during the pandemic, so he decided to camp in the park until he could get back on his feet. He had never been homeless before.
In the beginning, Hardy said the encampment was peaceful with about three other people living in it. By November, it ballooned to about 100 people. Hardy said there was a core community that looked out for each other and shared resources.
“We all help each other meet the needs of the moment,” Hardy said. “If it’s really cold, somebody will give their extra sleeping bag to somebody else … a lot of people would take the shirt off their back for anybody coming over here.”
But Hardy said there was a minority of people hanging around who were violent. Hardy described them as outsiders who were mostly just passing through. At times, Hardy was concerned for his safety and felt that he had to protect his friends from violence.
Before the city cleared the encampment in November, Hardy said he had seen notices warning about the sweep posted around the park. But the information was not always clear.
“There’s a lot of inconsistency across homeless camps, so you’ll hear one thing and not know exactly what to do,” he said. “Some of the people here struggle with mental illness or are handicapped, so it takes a lot longer to move.”
Hardy said moving is especially hard when you don’t know where else to go. In a statement about the sweep, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wrote: “We created and offered alternative warm, dry indoor spaces for people to go where they have access to hygiene, water, food and services.”
Hardy said he and other campers were given that option, but he wasn’t ready to move into a shelter.
“I’ve chosen to stay longer because I really needed to help a couple of my friends move out and make sure they were safe,” he said. “I didn’t feel okay with just leaving my friends behind here.”
Hardy said there are also other risks to staying in shelters.
“I think people feel fearful of losing all their stuff,” Hardy said. “There’s reason to be fearful of that.”
The morning of the sweep, Hardy had decided he wasn’t going to leave. He wasn’t ready to leave his friends who he considered to be vulnerable, and he felt supported by community advocates protesting the sweep.
At one point when contractors were clearing the area, Hardy left his tent for a few minutes to go to the bathroom. When he came back, contractors had removed all of his stuff and put it in the back of a truck.
“It kind of feels like bullying,” Hardy said.
Luckily, Hardy and a few of his friends were able to grab the stuff back from the truck. Hardy set back up near his old spot and is still camping in the park today along with about 40 other people. Hardy wants to move into a shelter eventually, but not until his friends are safe and supported.
In a way, Hardy said the city’s removal efforts were good because they cleared out trash and people who were violent, or not contributing to the community. He said the campsite had gotten pretty crowded by the time the city came to clear it in November.
Moving forward, Hardy said he’d like some kind of “peace agreement” between the city and people living in encampments. More than anything, he said people who are homeless need time and understanding to get back on their feet.
“This is a pandemic where it’s difficult to navigate getting through life,” he said. “We’re going day to day doing the best we can right now. Everybody is.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Tyler Hardy’s name. OPB regrets the error.
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