The city of Portland announced Monday it plans to clear unhoused campers from the area around Laurelhurst Park.
Dozens of people have made Southeast Oak Street and 37th Avenue their home over the last year, where they live in cars and tents. Former landscaper and painter Justin McFeely, who said he’s on methadone and doesn’t blame anyone for his situation, said he’s got to live somewhere. “It’s extremely hard to get back up on one’s feet from the very, very bottom.”
McFeely hasn’t talked to many other campers about where they’ll go when the city sweeps the area later this week, but he hopes the sweep is just a threat. “They talk about sweeping a lot of the times and then they don’t do it. So we don’t really know yet what’s really going to happen,” he said.
McFeely said he understands why some people wouldn’t want the campers around Laurelhurst Park, but a sweep will just force him to move to another spot.
The city issued a statement saying staff have visited on a near-daily basis to help with everything from trash removal to providing portable toilets. But after a recent firearms incident, the city is now posting notices for campers to vacate.
“A recent incident involved multiple firearms being drawn and their use threatened in the presence of a service provider,” said the city of Portland in a statement. “Prior to that incident, we increasingly struggled to maintain public safety and health standards as the camp grew larger and demanded a greater and greater share of the City’s limited resources. The situation has devolved into something unsafe and unhealthy for everyone involved. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to serve the unhoused community near the park.”
The notices say campers have at least 72 hours to leave before city contractors will show up to clear the area. Any property not claimed will be kept in a storage facility, where it can be claimed for up to 30 days.
The city said it will work to find shelter beds and services for people who are interested. “The Navigation Team from the Joint Office will support houseless residents throughout the process, and we have planned to ensure that we are intervening to help people access the services they need,” the statement said.
Benjamin Donlon with ‘Stop the Sweeps PDX’ questioned the veracity of the gun incident and said the city is using it as an excuse to sweep people away. “The reasoning that the city is using is based on pretty misguided information,” said Donlon.
Margaux Weeke, a spokesperson with Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office, said they are gathering the incident statements from the firearms incident and hope to clarify what happened as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Donlon is talking to people on the street to see what they want to do. “Once we find consensus among the campers we’ll have a better idea of how Thursday morning will go down,” he said.
The notice to vacate was posted at 7 a.m. Monday, meaning the earliest the sweep could start is 7 a.m. Thursday.