A number of Concordia residents are concerned about the status of a houseless campsite occupying the medians at the intersection of NE 33rd Avenue and Dekum Street. Initially three camps—A, B, and C— the site known locally as Hamlet 33 now comprises two independent but closely situated camps, after camp C was evicted by the city in April.
“I definitely empathize with the people who live there and are going through this wave of homelessness and drug addiction and the hard times we’re going through,” Concordia resident Matt Caldwell said. His post about the situation on the hyperlocal social network Nextdoor has received over 500 comments. Nevertheless, Caldwell and other Concordia residents have expressed concern about fires, ecological and sanitation issues, and alleged thefts connected to the camp. Caldwell said the camps have been connected to at least four incidents of theft and prowling and claims to have security footage connecting inhabitants of the camps to at least two auto breakins.
Neighbors have also expressed concern over the camps’ proximity to the highway and to Faubion school, which is just two blocks away. “My freshman daughter has to walk down 33rd and the now-closed ramp to Columbia Boulevard from school every day,” Concordia resident Meg Stansfield commented on Nextdoor. “This camp has been a big concern for us for a while now, and [I] wish it would be taken care of like the other camps … that have been removed.”
Neighbors have reported the site to Portland city officials 23 times since March of 2020, but aside from the eviction of camp B, they say their reports have gone unaddressed.
Meanwhile, the site has grown from a single tent in 2019 to around a dozen. “We’re seeing what happens when the government doesn’t do its job,” Caldwell said. His goals for the area include the cleaning and clearing of the remaining camps; the installation of “No Camping” signs, barriers, or rock gardens to prevent future camping; and the creation of volunteer patrols to protect the area after evictions. “I know how complex this is, but the more I think about it … to really do nothing and just let it be, that can’t be a solution,” he said.
In response to their neighbors’ concerns, residents of Hamlet 33 are asking for the neighborhood to work with the houseless community to avoid sweeps. Rebecca Lang, de facto leader of and spokesperson for camp A, where she has resided since April 2020, has been working to make improvements to the camp. She started a vegetable garden, which she hopes to use to bridge the gap with the neighborhood’s housed residents, hoping they will join her in tending the garden and share the produce. “I started gardening to show my thanks to the neighborhood for allowing us to have a camp here,” she said.
Additionally, Lang has overseen the installation of several improvements to the site’s limited infrastructure. “We have a dumpster through Republic Services’ dumpster rental program thanks to Clean Camp PDX,” a nonprofit whose goal is to provide regular garbage collection services to houseless camps. “Trash service is one of the integral parts of being able to maintain a camp that is sanitary,” Lang said. The site also has an ad hoc handwashing station, clean water for which is often provided by nearby Concordia neighbors.
Keri Morin Handaly, a resident of the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, has been working to help Hamlet 33’s residents keep their camps clean and support their goal of connecting with the Concordia community. “We have about 20-plus volunteers who have availed themselves to support the camp,” Handaly said.
The camp members are fully on board with talking to the community and creating guidelines for them to be able to stay there. “We really want the community to understand that [the camp residents are] not just refusing to leave,” Handaly said. “It’s not permanent. It’s compassion-based.” Lang urges her Concordia neighbors to consider the costs associated with evicting camps and pushing the houseless into shelters.
“The thought of sleeping in a room with a hundred people you don’t know is kind of scary,” she said. “Every homeless person has had happen or heard of terrible things that have happened around shelters. All shelters do is hide the face of homelessness for eight hours at night.”
Instead, Lang would like the community to work with Hamlet 33 so that its residents have a place to stay until the city’s Safe Rest Villages are established, even if it means moving the location of the camps.
“I’ve been open to us moving to a place that’s preferable,” she said. “It’d be an awesome thing if we could work with Concordia to open a campground. If you see people as people and not just homeless, they’ll want to do better. When you sweep people constantly, they have no connection to where they’re at. If you give them a place they can trust in, they want to do better.”
Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, who is championing the Safe Rest Village program, describes SRVs on his website as “an improved point of entry for Portlanders on the continuum from living on the streets to finding stability in permanent housing … All Safe Rest Villages will include case management with wraparound behavioral and mental health services. They will not be unmanaged tent or vehicle camping as people are currently living in—they are a way to address that unsafe, unsanitary, and dehumanizing way of living.”
Ryan’s office currently has plans to establish 10 SRVs, with expansion in the future. The city’s first SRV, in the 2300 block of Southwest Naito Parkway, opened in May. Portlanders can learn more about Safe Rest Villages at www. portland.gov/ryan/safe-rest-villages.
“We’re people that ran into some problems,” Lang said of she and her fellow Hamlet 33 inhabitants. “But we don’t mean anyone harm. We’re just trying to live our life like everyone else, just trying to do it with love in our hearts.”
Shawn Mihalik is a novelist, photographer, martial artist, and the Concordia Neighborhood Association’s media team lead. Although he’s fairly new to Portland, he already loves it here.