Portland’s City Council voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a new contract for the cleaning up and clearing out of the city’s homeless campsites.
Under the contract, Portland could pay up to $4.5 million over the next year to Rapid Response Bio Clean, a hazardous waste removal company tasked with disposing of the needles, shopping carts, trash and human waste left at cleared homeless campsites. The contractors are also responsible for dispersing any campers who have not heeded the city’s warning to leave, required to be posted at least two days prior.
The city has contracted with Rapid Response since 2016. But in recent weeks, the contract, which expands the scope of the company's responsibilities and significantly increases the amount of money approved for campsite cleanups, became a flashpoint over the larger issue of whether Portland should be doing this work at all.
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness have maintained that the cleanups harm the city’s most vulnerable populations, causing them to lose property and forego sleep. Advocates and those who said they’ve experienced the sweeps firsthand arrived at the meeting with orange signs that read “Sweeps Kill!”
These concerns initially caused the Council to pull the contract from the agenda last month — and put the bulk of the city’s campsite cleanups on pause.
But when the contract arrived in front of the Council Wednesday, the commissioners praised it, along with the city program that oversees the controversial cleanups, officially called the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program.
The new contract will require Rapid Response workers to be trained in non-violent conflict resolution, “be polite, diplomatic and professional at all times,” and be capable of administering naloxone, a compound that can reverse drug overdoses.
“The work that’s being done to get better at a more humane and just approach is really impressive,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said.
“Realistically, given the number of sites, there will always be improvements that we could make and should make,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “But I think you’ve struck an excellent balance here.”
With the new funds greenlit by city leaders, Rapid Response is expected to restart cleaning and clearing out campsites Wednesday afternoon.