By Nancy Varekamp | CNews Editor
The encampment on 33rd Avenue between Columbia Boulevard and Marine Drive is just one on the radar of the city. And there’s no easy solution for risks any of them may pose for the campers and/or their housed neighbors.
Assemblies of cars – ones burned to uselessness – are one concern, Jonathan Lewis told 30 Concordians at the March 3 neighborhood association general meeting. “Whenever they go to remove a vehicle, it only seems to make space for people to bring in another vehicle,” added the Portland Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program coordinator.
Health and safety are the chief concerns of his agency, which is assigned to provide services related to homelessness. “Our vision is to achieve a community where everyone has a safe and lawful place to sleep, access to basic hygiene, and public sanitation standards are maintained,” he said.
Reporting on the One Point of Contact system anything contrary to that vision is how everyone can help. “It’s designed to identify where the camps are that pose the greatest risk to public health and safety,” Jonathan said. Report-generated assessments are averaging 1,500 per week.
“Our response is based on risks posed, not volumes of complaints generated,” Jonathan reported. Flooding One Point with the same complaint doesn’t move a site to the top of the list.
Depending on conditions of camps, some are removed, and others receive services that include garbage removal. “When you’re in a crisis mode, you literally cannot be concerned with garbage,” Jonathan explained. With the pandemic’s economic ravages have come a dramatic increase in campers, and their waste. Garbage removal prior to the pandemic averaged 60,000 pounds per month, but January’s was 800,000 pounds.
The unhoused aren’t alone in increasing that situation. “We have gotten reports where unhoused people are telling us housed folks are driving by and dumping their garbage.”
Other health and safety concerns related to houselessness also have no easy solutions. “Our program is just one spoke on the wheel,” Jonathan said. City, county and regional governments and organizations work together in their efforts to make Portland safe for its residents, housed and unhoused. He also pointed to individuals’ efforts to help each other during the ongoing pandemic, the February ice storm and especially to projects like the Free Fridges popping up across the city.
“I feel there’s no shortage of creative solutions within the Portland community,” he noted. “There’ s no shortage of opportunities for folks like yourself to get involved. What that looks like is for you all to decide.”
Nancy Varekamp is semi-retired from her career in journalism, public relations and – her favorite work engagement – writing and editing targeted newsletters.