PORTLAND, Ore. -- A day after KGW reported on The Oregon Department of Transportation initiating a homeless camp sweep during subfreezing temperatures, the agency’s director told KGW they’re conducting an internal investigation into why it happened.
“Let me assure you that steps have been taken internally to ensure that no additional camp cleanups will occur during such cold weather,” ODOT Director Matthew Garrett said via email.
On Tuesday, crews working for ODOT swept 11 campers and tents from an illegal campsite at Southeast 92nd & Flavel Street.
“It was freezing outside,” said a displaced camper named Krissy. “All our hands were frozen. We were so cold it wasn't even funny.”
Krissy and several others walked two miles in the cold to the nearest shelter to get help.
“I was horrified, said Ree Campbell with Boots on the Ground PDX, which helped the campers get new gear.
“My thoughts were, ‘Oh my gosh, how many tents and sleeping bags do we need? Do they have enough clothes on their back?’” Campbell said.
Both the City of Portland and Multnomah County had placed moratoriums on clearing homeless camps during freezing cold conditions.
Several homeless advocates, including Campbell, have expressed frustration over what they see as a pattern regarding ODOT’s lack of cooperation with other agencies when dealing with homeless camps.
“They've been obstinate about their right to sweep and have done so with impunity,” said Campbell.
Garrett said ODOT is focused on people's safety.
“Though there may be differing stories about the facts in this particular matter, ODOT Region 1 management is investigating and will take appropriate action to ensure that no one's safety is put at risk, especially in dangerous weather conditions.”
Campbell said she’s grateful that the agency is taking this case seriously.
“I am really, really thankful that they're taking a look at this,” Campbell said.