‘Drug camp’ protested in Lents

It’s more than an eyesore, neighbors say. Here’s why they staged a protest at a site near the Franklin High School Marshall Campus …

Lents neighbors try to engage homeless campers in conversation and offer help, as well as to protest, at this outer East Portland campsite.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

A block east of Kirkland Union Manor, a senior/disabled housing center, and a couple blocks north of Franklin High’s Marshall Campus, a homeless camp of more than fifty tents has grown over a period of about two years.

This lot, vacant of buildings but filled with tents and trash, is situated along SE Powell Boulevard, bordered by SE Lafayette Street, 88th Avenue, and 90th Place, has been subject to numerous City of Portland Bureau of Planning Services (BES) “Vacant Lot Nuisance Complaint” filings for years.

The newly-installed fence doesn’t keep rubbish from piling up in the area, says Jennifer Young with Lents Neighbors for Justice.

Four such complaints were lodged this year alone, starting on April 20, and the most recent on July 8. The property’s owner, Agenda Corporation of Toppenish, Washington – classified as “Non-Profit Human Services” with about $10 million in assets – did token clean-ups of the property; but the campers and trash returned.

“We started a campaign to urge the new owners to have the property fenced, and that happened about a week ago,” said Jennifer Young with Lents Neighbors for Justice, at a protest set up near the remaining campers on September 17.

The area on the other side of this wall has been fenced off, but several campers moved here, along SE Lafayette Street.

“I was first alerted to the this problem in the neighborhood last year, when a particular camper decided to camp out in front of an elderly woman’s home nearby,” Young told East Portland News, standing by a pile of trash in front of the newly-installed steel chain-link fence with a barbed-wire top.

“Many of the campers left, but some have just moved across the wall, and along the sidewalk behind the lot, or into the street, closer to homes,” Young pointed out.

Young said she’s spent about 20 hours a week doing outreach in the area, trying to help campers find housing. “Many of them say they don’t want help, and they won’t go into a program. In fact, they’re are using the guise of homelessness to run drugs and [participate in] criminal activity.”

As their requests for help from City Bureaus and law enforcement go unheeded, trash keeps building up in the area, residents say.

Not long ago, she said, she took a local television news crew to the area to document the activity she describes. “The foot traffic was intense that morning; as kids were walking to school, we counted 163 drug buys in three hours.”

Although asked to comment on their side of the story, these campers refused to do so, and walked away.

She and neighbors are frustrated, Young commented. “I have ‘gone down the rabbit hole’ with the City [Bureaus] and the police – nobody listens to me, or to anyone else, about this problem.”

The best possible outcome for this would be enforcing of the law,” Young postulated. “This means police coming out here, and actually arresting people for drug dealing, theft, menacing, and threatening neighbors. It also means cleaning up the area, and posting it, and breaking up these entrenched camps.”

This man, George Dennis Smith, an admitted addict who goes by name “Denny”, tells reporters he’s been homeless for two years, and has been camping out in the neighborhood.

Several campers in the area ducked out of sight when East Portland News and a local television station approached.

But one of the campers, George Dennis Smith, kibitzed with protesters and reporters at the scene and admitted that he comprehend the frustration of neighbors.

“All the trash around here, that’s not at all cool,” Smith said. “And some of the kinds of trash here,” he said acknowledging syringes and needles in the area, “this is not cool. And I apologize for my end of it.”

These neighbors say they became activists to help save the Lents neighborhood.

Several protesters at the site, who chose to let Young speak for them, commented that they were out on a rain-soaked Saturday morning because they feel that the Lents neighborhood has a disproportionate number of homeless.

“Can you imagine a situation like this going on for a year-and-a-half across from the house of [Portland Mayor] Charlie Hales?” interjected Young.

“We’re working for equity and enforcement throughout the in the city, and ending the marginalization of residence in the Lents community who have been going through hell,” Young concluded.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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