PORTLAND, Ore. -- Under direction from the Oregon Department of Transportation, work crews cleared an illegal campsite of 11 people on Southeast 92nd Avenue and Flavel Street on Tuesday morning.
“They just wanted us out of there,” said a camper named Krissy.
“They were pulling our tents up whether we wanted them to or not,” added another camper named Martha.
“They weren't giving us a chance to get nothing out,” said a camper named Bob.
ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said campers are at risk of being hurt if a snow plow or de-icing truck drove through the area.
“It is still very illegal and very dangerous to be on the streets and in these camps near the roads,” he said.
While ODOT has the right to order camps on state land to be swept, many homeless advocates feel they should hold off during freezing weather. According to this policy, the city of Portland, backed by Multnomah County, will not require people to move from their campsites during severe winter weather conditions. That includes forecasted temperatures and wind chill estimates of 25 degrees or below.
“ODOT came through and [swept] anyhow,” said Bob.
When asked why, Hamilton said he couldn’t speak to what the county is trying to do, “but conditions are very dangerous out on the street and it's worse when it's cold out there."
“We told them they were going to have to leave and we provided them with information on where they could get services," he added.
Many in the group said they walked two miles to the Clackamas Service Center empty-handed.
“They took everything they could and just made us leave,” said Krissy.
Hamilton maintained that the campers were given a choice to leave as crews were only there to post notice.
“We told them that they were going to have to leave soon and they all voluntarily left,” he said.
The campers said they felt forced to go and leaving what they had, at least this week, was the last thing they wanted to do.
“It was freezing outside,” said Krissy. “All our hands were frozen. We were so cold it wasn't even funny.”
KGW reached out to several volunteer groups including Boots on the Ground PDX and Clackamas Service Center. Volunteers said they were working to give the 11 displaced campers new tents and gear to use. Both organizations said they’re in need of donations including warm clothes, sleeping bags and supplies for people living on the street.