City officials started the process of dismantling the homeless camps along the Springwater Corridor bike path in Portland on Thursday.
The scene on the trail was a mix of chaos and calm.
Dozens of park rangers walked up and down the trail, encouraging people to pack and get ready to move, but they also told the homeless people there was no hard deadline for dismantling the camps.
Richelle Irving, who lives on the trail that extends from Portland to Boring, said she appreciated being given more time to pack.
“A little more compassion this time, I think. Still just as stressful,” she said. “It’d be nice if we all had somewhere to go for sure, you know what I mean? But they are being a lot nicer about it.”
Portland police officers played a minimal role during the cleanup. Officers said they were present on the trail only in case a security threat arose, but they weren’t directly involved in asking campers to move on and were not issuing citations.
For many on the trail, the morning began around 6 a.m. with the sound of news helicopters flying overhead. Then came activists, church groups and social workers.
Much of the activity centered around a single large camp in a field along Johnson Creek, near 82nd Avenue in Portland.
“It’s against our civil rights, not being able to lay our heads down,” said Ali Beene, as volunteers with the group Tenants United helped dismantle her tent and pile her belongings into carts.
Beene was among dozens of homeless people who camped in the field this summer. She described it as a difficult place to live at times.
“I didn’t like all the other campers nearby. There needed to be more policing,” she said.
Beene said a fire that started in the field this summer was caused by campers deliberately trying to light her son’s tent on fire.
Beene said she suffers from bipolar disorder with manic episodes and PTSD. Before she left her campsite, she stopped to feed a loaf of bread to the ducks floating in Johnson creek.
“C’mon, babies,” she called. “We watched them grow up.”
As people left the field, private contractors and an inmate work crew began the process of removing the tents, bike parts, mattresses, food and garbage left behind.
In places, the field smelled strongly of human waste. The city has hired a biohazard specialist to remove the buckets of urine and piles of fecal matter left by the dozens of people living on the trail.
Near the field, two women from the Lents neighborhood offered coffee, donuts and homemade granola bars to the homeless people leaving the camp.
“We’re just here to help,” Malori Butler said.
“If you have to wake up and move everything you own, a cup of coffee would at least make it a little easier,” Jasmine Koski said.
The city hasn’t designated a place for the people living on the trail to go.
“We acknowledge they have no clear place to go,” said Sarah Hottman, spokeswoman for Mayor Charlie Hales. “That’s why the cleanup effort is going to extend with no hard deadline.”
The closest homeless shelter said it had 12 beds available, but many on the trail said they prefer camping outdoors to living in a shelter. Some of the homeless people said they were trying to make their way to other outdoor camps on Portland’s east side. Others said outreach workers were helping them pay for a short-term stay in a motel.
The city’s effort to move the camps will likely continue for weeks.
After hours of work, city staff were still removing tents and garbage from a single stretch of the trail about a block long. And many people remained camped on the trail just beyond the reach of the crews.
The mayor’s office said in addition to the camp near 82nd Avneue, crews also targeted a second encampment on Metro property near the Beggar’s Tick Wildlife Refuge. The city said all campers had left that area, and work crews removed 500 needles, 9 gallons of urine, and a dumpster load of trash.
The mayor’s office estimates the ongoing effort to remove and clean the homeless camps will cost between $150,000 to $400,000.
One 40-yard dumpster filled o 500 needles
o 9 gallons of urine