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Overlook's Homeless Campers Want To Stay, But Neighbors Say No

Bob Brimmer prepares a salmon dinner for Hazelnut Grove residents.

Bob Brimmer prepares a salmon dinner for Hazelnut Grove residents.

Dave Miller/OPB

Bob Brimmer is among those who are living at the encampment at the intersection of N. Greeley and N. Interstate avenues, down a steep hill from Overlook Park in North Portland. He says he moved from New York, couldn’t get a job here and lived for a while in front of Portland City Hall. He now does odd jobs and cooks for the camp called Hazelnut Grove, which is home to more than 20 people. Brimmer says living out here is his choice.

“I could be trying to slave away to live in a box that I can barely afford, or I could actually be enjoying life, which I most definitely am enjoying life a lot at the moment. It’s nice to see the social change that will spawn out of something like this. “

Hazelnut Grove resident Jose Serrica

Hazelnut Grove resident Jose Serrica

Dave Miller/OPB

Brimmer’s neighbor at Hazelnut Grove, Pastor Jose Serrica, says he’s been living without a house since 2011, when he was foreclosed on. Until he came to this camp he says he’d been keeping the vigil outside Portland City Hall, as part of the Occupy Portland movement.

He told Think Out Loud host Dave Miller that even though he originally decided to live houseless as a kind of experiment, he discovered that he was what he calls “a hard sleeper.” 

“And that is a person that actually likes to live outside, three seasons a year. I’m 59 so the cold kind of bugs me … (but) I’m finding out that it’s not that bad.”

The area has attracted enough campers that a separate, neighboring camp, called Forgotten Realms was established, leading to some tension.

The city of Portland plans to issue a permit to Hazelnut Grove — at least on a temporary basis. Serrica says he and the other people who camp here adhere to a strict code of conduct, which includes no stealing and no drug use.

But neighbors like Chris Trejbal, who sits on the board of the Overlook Neighborhood Association, say there are a lot of different people camping in the area now.

“I think our board has a good relationship with the campers, especially with Hazelnut Grove.”

Dave Miller/OPB

Trejbal fears that other campers, including those not associated with Hazelnut Grove or Forgotten Realms may be to blame for increased problems in the neighborhood. Trejbal says homeowners and others have reported include increased car break-ins and more hypodermic needles found at Overlook Park. 

Speaking at the Portland City Club about homelessness last week, Mayor Charlie Hales said that the city has been successfully managing the conflict between neighbors and new homeless accommodations:

“What we’ve seen in both Overlook and Multnomah Village with the siting of the temporary shelter that we have in the Sears building, is this amazing outpouring of understanding and support from neighbors … The more that dialogue has taken place, the more those fears have gone away and genuine connections that are helping people have evolved.”

Trejbal says Hale’s assessment is “wholly inaccurate.”

Trebal says Overlook Neighborhood Association took a “wait-and-see” approach at first, but problems have continued, and the board is now strongly opposed to any camping in this area. He says Portland can and should do better for those without homes.

“We should have better facilities to help our homeless population. We should be providing them with a place that’s dry. We should be providing them with a place that has shelter, and a place that they would have access to the services they need. This is not that place.”

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