Portland's auditor released a review Wednesday of the Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program — the city program that cleans up homeless camps.
The audit calls for more organization, clarification and communication to prevent people who are homeless from losing personal property. It also calls for more follow-up when people file complaints.
The Impact Reduction Program, created in 2015, allows people to submit complaints about homeless campsites. The city then reviews those complaints, assesses the sites and potentially conducts clean-ups.
The program estimated it removed 2.6 million pounds of garbage in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The clean-ups can be smaller scale, such as just removing garbage from the area, or more extensive. If they are extensive, the city removes personal property on the sites to thoroughly clean the area.
That property is taken to a storage facility if property owners aren’t on-site at the time.
Although the city must legally hold that property for 30 days, many campers said it was challenging to get their stuff back, citing an unorganized storage procedure. Some homeless people said they were unable to leave their campsites to retrieve their property from the city for fear of items being stolen in their absence.
The audit suggests a property management system to solve the problem, as well as procedures to track inventory and property storage.
During the time of the audit, the city had two storage buildings with insufficient capacity for the property collected during cleanups. The city replaced those two buildings and now has a larger, more centrally located warehouse in Southeast Portland.
According to the audit, homeless advocates have criticized the clean-up program for “traumatizing the people in the camps.”
Overall, the audit found the program improved conditions for people in or near the campsites.
The biggest thing campers asked for was more communication on when clean-ups would occur.
The audit states that the city posts notices around the camps about a week before a scheduled clean-up, but a lot of the time, those notices get torn down. It recommended more durable signage.
People who filed complaints about camps said they were disappointed in slow or lacking response from the city. About 37 percent of respondents said their complaint was not addressed. On the other end of that, about 80 percent of respondents said that status updates on clean-ups were important.
Without responses, people often submitted multiple complaints for the same sites.
In 2018, complaints ranged from 200 to 700 per week.
The audit assessed one week in particular, June 4-10, 2018. In that week, the program received 680 complaints.
Of those 680 complaints, the program sent assessment crews to visit the locations of 270.
It forwarded 167 complaints to other agencies, mostly the Oregon Department of Transportation for campsites on state land.
For the remaining 243 complaints, the audit found no assessment records or evidence of action.
During the following week, crews cleaned up 21 locations. An additional seven sites were listed in the clean-up log, but the audit found no photo documentation around those clean-ups.
Also, due to the program not monitoring timeliness, there was no way for the audit to decipher whether those 21 cleaned sites were directly related to the 680 complaints from the prior week.
The city auditor's office recommended seven suggestions for the city program, including giving people status updates on complaints.