Portland cracks down on traveling panhandlers

Portland cracks down on traveling panhandlers

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by Pat Dooris, KGW News

kgw.com

Posted on October 4, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 5 at 12:24 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's late morning in downtown Portland.

A young woman in her 20’s sits on the sidewalk between two men also in their 20’s, brushing her teeth. She turns and spits into the gutter.

The scene at SW 3rd and Oak is one of many things frustrating business owners like Brad Popick, President of the Portland Outdoor Store.

“It’s annoying. It’s completely annoying,” he said.

Popick’s building is across the street from the woman brushing her teeth. He blames her and as many as 40 others who are part of a larger camping group trash and dog poop on the sidewalks of downtown.

“The disaster we have in the morning sometimes, not as much the last two weeks because they've really controlled it. But it is a complete disaster area in the morning,” Popick said.

And that's just the beginning. Police say some in the group are intimidating and aggressive.

“We've had reports of females being followed to their cars with their children and being kinda accosted for money and that sort of thing, so real aggressive panhandling to the point of real intimidation for folks," said Sgt. Cliff Bachigalup from the Portland Police Bureau.

Police say the group is made up of young adults who travel the country and began showing up in Portland three to four years ago. They typically stay in town through the summer until the weather changes in the fall.

As complaints have mounted, police have focused extra attention on the group.

As KGW cameras watched, police and animal control gave a woman from the group with a dog a warning about the animal. A few blocks away at SW 1st and Stark, officers arrested another group member named Bryan Vachter. He'd been charged with drinking in public but skipped the court date.

As we monitored police, several people told us about the group's tactics of intimidation.

“About two blocks down we have the carts, a whole street of carts and then what they do is hang out at the corner and they literally will block you from getting into carts and stuff like that,” said James T. Robinson who works downtown.

Anthony Benjamin is a member of the group. He said he's originally from Seattle. “Yeah, we're travelers, train kids, travelers, whatever you want to, hobos,” he said.

He claims police are unfairly targeting them.

“And now they're going to take all of our dogs so we can’t leave. If you want us gone, let us leave!” he said.

Animal control seized 3 dogs for not having rabies shots.

Police said they will continue to focus on the group until the weather changes.

“It’s a big issue,” said Sgt. Bachigalup. “It probably is the central issue around the transitory traveler population. When the weather gets bad, historically what we know is alot of those folks will leave town," he said.

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