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‘We can’t walk down the streets’: Old Town residents fear for their safety as city gives update on 90-day reset plan

Since April, about 350 homeless encampments have been removed from Old Town and more than 18,000 square feet of graffiti has been cleaned up.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A 90-day effort to rebuild and reopen Old Town came to an end this week.

Protected by the gates of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, city officials along with the Old Town Community Association gave an update on where the neighborhood now stands.

About two dozen people attended the press conference Monday morning, including several long-time Old Town residents concerned about neighborhood safety.

“We have made some critical decisions to get us started and now we must stay the course improving the process and work,” said Jessie Burke, chair of the Old Town Community Association and co-owner of the Society Hotel.

RELATED: ‘It simply became too unsafe’: Old Town homeless village closing this month after increased gun violence downtown

In March, Burke and city officials announced a 90-day reset plan for Old Town with the goal to reduce crime, remove graffiti, and improve overall safety.

Since then, more than 18,000 square feet of graffiti has been removed and permanent trash crews are dedicated to cleaning up the area.  

“The Old Town neighborhood has been disproportionately affected by the crisis’ that are impacting Portland today,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

The city also increased the number of camp removals and placed 87 people into shelters. In April, the city removed 137 homeless encampments and another 206 in May.

Within the past 45 days, the city has also dedicated 92 beds in two new shelters for people who camped in old town.

“I’m proud to say we are turning the tide,” Mayor Wheeler said.

But neighbors such as Earl Reeves and his wife, who have lived in Old Town for 20 years, aren’t convinced.

“Maybe they are making an attempt, but I’m not seeing it yet; the tents get wiped out, two days later the tents are back,” Earl Reeves said.

"I wouldn’t go outside at night period to cross the street; it’s that dangerous,” added Sheila Reeves.

RELATED: Portland’s first Safe Rest Village opens next week, and some neighbors are concerned

Longtime resident Kevin Guinn echoed the Reeves' concerns.

“We can’t walk down the streets; we are unsafe," he said. "I’ve been assaulted on the streets. I don’t even call the police… You regularly have to clear out people who are smoking meth and we have to ask for private security in order to be able to get home at night.”

Residents living on the streets told KGW that camp removals aren’t a long-term solution.

“Once they get swept, they just go and get more equipment because you can’t just leave people with nothing,” said Vern, who’s lived in Old Town for 13 years. He’s experienced homelessness but now gets housing through Central City Concern.

RELATED: Old Town stakeholders give disgruntled progress report on area cleanup plan

A rise in violent crime also continues to plague the neighborhood, including a recent string of brutal homicides. Before praising the work that’s been done to repair the area, Portland’s Police Chief Chuck Lovell named each of the four victims who recently lost their lives due to violence nearby. 

“There’s still work to do... I’m confident that continued efforts will lead to improved livability and reduced crime," he said. 

“We’re here every day. We deserve to have the safety that other people take for granted,” said Guinn.

Homelessness is a problem facing the entire city, and the Wheeler said he plans to bring the same tactics employed in the Old Town 90-day reset plan to bear on other neighborhoods.

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