Sometime Monday night, someone cut the fence to an animal enclosure in Portland’s University Park neighborhood, releasing the city’s famed Belmont Goats in what appears to be a protest over homeless camp sweeps.
So far, authorities have not arrested anyone for the vandalism, but the perpetrators left a note signed “Some Anarchists.” The note questioned whether the comfort of goats is being valued above people.
The goat enclosure is on city-owned land being developed for a new Safe Rest Village, a city-sanctioned homeless camp. The goats need to move elsewhere. Their current home sits next to an unsanctioned homeless camp that is in the process of being swept.
Robin Casey, a volunteer with the Belmont Goats nonprofit, said she’s sad the activists didn’t talk to the nonprofit workers first, because they’re sympathetic. “I really don’t feel like there was a need for this kind of action,” Casey said.
Casey said nonprofit organizers originally thought they would have more time to find another site for the goats, but the city is moving quickly to set up the new village. She said there wasn’t enough time to talk to potential new neighbors or set up a crowdfunding campaign before they needed to move.
So the city suggested the goats move to the spot of the current unsanctioned camp.
“The city was like: ‘Hey, what about if we basically just rearranged your fence line and put you on the other side of the field. Would that be an okay thing?’” Casey said. “And it was something that we were agreeing to because we want to stay in that neighborhood. Because we’re part of that neighborhood.”
In addition to questioning whether goat comfort is valued above people’s comfort, that note said people experiencing homelessness don’t know where to go.
“People are desperate. Sweeps are a cruel, inhuman, and murderous way for the city to push people around, to appease developers and business owners, to keep unhoused people from forming communities at networks of support that might allow them to survive,” the note said.
The Portland mayor’s office issued a statement saying the Street Services Coordination Center has worked for the past six months to talk to people camping along the Peninsula Crossing trail. People camping near the goats were offered shelter beds, rides to a shelter and storage for their belongings, according to the city.
With regard to the goats, the city statement called it a senseless incident that caused damage to private property and posed an immediate threat to the goats.
Rebecca Lange has been homeless for a couple of years and understands the sentiment behind the animal release but doesn’t agree with it.
“What it ended up doing was gathering more ill will to the homeless, even though the homeless didn’t have anything to do with it,” Lange said.
Martin Hage lives in a house next to both the goat enclosure and the homeless camp. He said he has mixed feelings because he was happy when he heard the goats were staying nearby, but then questioned why he’s focused on the goats rather than the people.
“I certainly understand both sides of this,” said Hage. “It gives me mixed feelings.”
Hage said illegal activity around the camp was rife during the pandemic, but that it had recently abated significantly.
Seven goats escaped. After wandering the University Park neighborhood for a few hours, they were safely wrangled back into their enclosure. None were harmed.