During an appearance applauding Amazon’s upcoming ‘robotic fulfillment center’ and the 1,500 full-time jobs it’s expected to bring to Troutdale, Oregon Governor Kate Brown Wednesday took a moment to address, what department of transportation officials call, a “widespread problem” amid Portland’s homeless crisis.
That is ODOT's inability to clear even the most problematic of homeless camps off its land on short notice.
“We're working every night,” she said. “Every night and every day.”
It’s a problem Donna, who hasn’t wanted to reveal her last name, knows well.
She lives in Southeast Portland, next to a piece of ODOT land, and she’s spoken to KGW three times in the past week about repeated attempted break-ins, threats and other disturbing behavior.
Earlier this week, she said homeless campers successfully broke into her shed, stealing her lawn mower and other equipment.
All of it, she says, is the result of living next to a camp that ODOT says it can’t clear yet.
“There are more tents. There are more people hanging around,” said Donna. “The police and ODOT and the mayor and the governor are not responding to me or helping me… I should not have to live like this.”
Donna said the agency did post notices warning campers to leave but added she was told it could take more than two weeks.
Beyond that, ODOT officials admit, there’s nothing keeping campers from coming back the day after they’re cleared.
In short, the problem for ODOT lies in past lawsuits.
In one, dating back to 2011, plaintiffs complained the agency cleared campers off their land too quickly, leaving some traumatized and forced to leave many of their possessions.
The results were settlements that mandated ODOT, among other things, give campers 10-19 days’ notice before asking them to leave. Read the settlement agreement
Spokesman Don Hamilton adds the agency isn’t adequately staffed to constantly the number of camps that garner complaints.
Wednesday he said they hear from people like Donna a lot.
“We understand perfectly well the fear that's involved with this,” said Hamilton. “We'll do everything that we can within these parcels to get this cleaned up within these legal restraints that we have.”
Governor Brown’s staff said Wednesday her office gets regular updates on the issue.
She said they’re working feverishly to push packages through the legislature to fund more affordable housing projects.
At the same time, she said she understands there are immediate fears among homeowners living next to problematic camps.
“We're also very focused on making sure local jurisdictions have the tools that they need to prevent homelessness,” she said. “At the same time, we're working with the authorities involved to see if we can't resolve these particular situations right away.”
Governor Brown’s staff also offered to take Donna’s information before leaving Wednesday’s event.