PORTLAND, Ore. -- For nearly a month, Donna, who's always been afraid to show her face, says she had hope.
The small piece of property on the other side of her Lents neighborhood home's backyard fence had sat empty.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is really nice to be able to go out and not have people watch me when I need to go to work or not come onto my property,’” she said.
But earlier this week, just like they have all year, campers came back to the Oregon Department of Transportation-owned land, and Donna said this group is scary.
“The girl just went off on us. she was calling us names, telling me she was going to beat me and my daughter up,” she said. “I’m having a really bad time right now, and this is not helping me at all… I'll sue the city.”
Donna issued that threat, despite the fact that the mayor's office, Portland police and ODOT have been doing a better job, she said, of keeping campers away.
They're even having meetings every two weeks to coordinate clean-ups.
ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton said the agency performs roughly 200 clean-ups per year.
But despite those efforts, campers still manage to put down roots on ODOT land, and Hamilton said once they do, the state's hands are tied.
And it doesn’t matter how campers behave.
“When people are threatened, when there's danger, they call the police, and I'm sure the police will be there as quickly as possible,” he said. “We have certain legal restrictions we have to follow to make sure we're clearing these properties, cleaned as quickly as we can, and to make sure we're looking out for the rights of the homeless people that are out there."
They rights Hamilton is referring to are from a 2011 court order, requiring ODOT to post notices and give campers 10-19 days warning before clearing them out.
Hamilton says officials aren't even sure if legislative action could circumvent that, but they say nothing else stands a chance.
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s spokesman Michael Cox said, “A consistent set of jurisdictional standards for dealing with homeless camps would be helpful…ODOT is forced to deal with more a rigorous set of conditions."
For now, the group staying near Donna still has two weeks. She's posted signs and gotten a dog.
Campers said she has no reason to fear, adding, they wish they had more options, too.
“People don't like us here because they think we're druggies. Half of them are. Half of them aren't,” Tony Smith, a homeless camper said.
Then, Smith added, referencing Donna,“I'm sorry somebody hurt you. But we're not here to hurt you.”
KGW reached out to Oregon State Sen. Michael Dembrow, State Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer and Gov. Kate Brown, asking if this is a topic being discussed in Salem.
We did not receive any immediate responses.
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