Springwater Trail exodus begins

The campers have moved on, but remnants of their stay, remain …

It’s moving day for homeless campers along the Springwater Corridor Trail in outer East Portland, extending east from SE 82nd Avenue of Roses in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

As promised by city officials, remaining homeless sojourners along the Springwater Corridor Trail were rousted from their camps – primarily from SE 82nd Avenue of Roses eastward – on September 1.

Along the trail, the campers had their belongings stacked in shopping carts, on hand trucks – in fact, in or on anything that had wheels.

Left behind, for the moment, were clumps of bicycles in various states of repair, chained to signposts. Litter and refuse was scattered in the former campsites.

Ready to talk with displaced trail campers is Clackamas County Crisis Counselor Brandon Leonard, MSW.

“This is a tough deal, for sure,” said Clackamas County Crisis Counselor Brandon Leonard, MSW, who was standing with co-workers from Centerstone, a community-based behavioral health program.

“We certainly recognize that it doesn’t seem that anyone is really ‘winning’ in this situation, but the people involved are in fairly good spirits, considering that they have to move out of the area where they’ve been living,” Leonard told East Portland News while watching the migration of campers along the paved trail.

Volunteers, clean-up workers, and the homeless begin to leave camps along the trail.

Chad Stover, City of Portland Policy Director of Livability, in the Office of Mayor Charlie Hales, says that outreach efforts substantially reduced the number of people living on the trail before clean-out day.

Many of the campers had already moved on, after being contacted by outreach workers, at a cost to the city of $75,000 to $90,000.

“We started doing outreach to people living on the Springwater Corridor Trail back on July 18,” remarked Chad Stover, City of Portland Policy Director of Livability, in the office of Mayor Charlie Hales, who was also out on the trail. “The outreach people have been here every day since then, for a month and a half; it’s helped this process to go extremely well.”

Stover said that, over the six-week period, the population of the “Lambert Field” area – where SE Lambert Street dead-ends into the trail – has gone from more than 75 people down to about a dozen.

Some camps, set back from the paved trail in the weeds, do remain.

“This proves that the outreach has worked tremendously well,” Stover observed. “We been focusing on the most vulnerable communities, making sure that they are getting to the shelters, and getting the wraparound social services they need.”

Part of the city’s approach to the problem with “humanity, compassion, and putting the needs of the campers first”, has been trying to find places for displaced campers to go.

“The next step is getting people into beds – in what bed space we have available,” Stover told East Portland News.

“In the worst-case scenario, in which we don’t have shelter space built, we can get them into a more low-impact way of camping, which is preferable over high-impact camping,” Stover said.

“Low-impact camping”, he explained, means relocating homeless into supervised areas with Dumpsters and some services available.

Campers continue to pile up their belongings preparing for the move.

Also on the trail was Lents Neighborhood Association Public Safety Chair Robert Schultz, who said he’s walked the trail frequently, listening to both residents and the homeless.

“Almost everyone I’ve asked has said they don’t know what they’ll do, or where they’ll be going,” Schultz reflected.

A canine companion waits for his owner to return as they prepare to move from the “Lambert Field” campsite.

Neighbor Alice Bridger watched the activity, shook her head, and said, “When we bought our house, we thought it would be heaven, living next to the Springwater Trail; it turned out to be pure hell.

“People come around now, and say how sad they are for the predicament of these [homeless] people – and then go back to their own houses, far away from the noise, trash, and crime that moved in here,” Bridger added.

“I hope this clean-out works, but I don’t have high hopes – even if it isn’t the same people, others will come back in and set up camp really soon,” opined Bridger gloomily.

Many campers make no effort to clean up their campsites as they depart.

The campers packed up their belongings, attached trailers to bicycles and raked trash into piles along the corridor, as Portland Parks & Recreation Park Rangers watched – along with the occasional Portland Police Bureau bike patrol officer.

In the roughly three-block length of this particular segment of the trail, workers easily filled a 40-yard drop box with refuse. According information released at an afternoon press conference at City Hall, workers disposed of 500 needles and nine gallons of urine.

The subsequent clean-up and restoration of the area is estimated to cost the city as much as $400,000.

Perhaps the owner of these jeans will come back to reclaim them.

On the day after the sweep, what remained were heaps of refuse, along with rusting bike parts, rotted tents and canopies, utility drums, laundry bins, and crates. Officials said the clean-up will pause for the long holiday weekend, and resume again on September 6.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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