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'I call it jail': How those living in RVs feel about entering Portland's first RV park

One street over from the new Sunderland RV Safe Park, dozens of homeless people live in broken-down vehicles, many of which don't qualify for the park.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A mile of broken-down RVs and trailers paint a picture of neglect along sections of Portland's Northeast 33rd Drive

Homeless people who live there look to people like Bruce Arnold, a pastor at PDX Church, for help. He and his team hand out food and clothes there every Wednesday morning. They’ve been doing this type of outreach since the pandemic.

"I think the No. 1 need on the street is someone to look you in the eyes and say your worth something," Arnold said.

Like him, city outreach crews have been targeting this street ahead of opening the first city-sanctioned RV park for homeless people. It's called the Sunderland RV Safe Park and it's located one street over from Northeast 33rd Drive. The Safe Park is part of the city's Safe Rest Villages program and the only village for vehicles. 

It opened in July and it can hold 55 vehicles. So far, nine have moved in. More are expected to arrive later this week.

RELATED: Portland homeless RV park set to open soon

When KGW was there Wednesday, a man was trying to move his RV into the site but was unable to find someone to help him tow it. It's not clear if the city was going to step in since they told KGW they may be able to tow broken-down RVs and trailers on a case-by-case basis. It's unclear if this man was the exception. 

Word on the street about the site wasn't great.

"I call it jail. That's basically what it is," said Andrew, who’s lived in an RV on Northeast 33rd Drive for six years. 

He was offered a spot in the village but said no one followed up with him. He told KGW he’s not sure he would move in if offered again.

"I hear they help you get housing," he said. "That's the only reason I might do it."

The city's Safe Rest Village Team told KGW the nine that have moved into the village are fully functional. Homeless people also need to have some form of proof of the right to use the vehicle and a valid driver's license to drive it. These are requirements many homeless people say are impossible for them to meet. 

RELATED: Efforts to clear homeless people from downtown forcing them to relocate to other places, neighbors say

"I can say that none of these RVs are going to go in there; people down here do not have any kind of paperwork for their RV," said Angel, who's lived on Northeast 33rd Drive for two months. 

"Most of these are abandoned from places; people picked them up on the side of the road or they were left by somebody else," said Ralph, who lives next to Angel. 

Ralph's RV runs, but he said he still wouldn't move into the site if given the chance.

"It's a controlled environment," he said. "They control you. They got to let everybody get in there, you can't put a label on people."

"No one wants to go in there because of the rules," Angel said. "No one wants to be told what to do like that."

The Salvation Army runs the site. Their spokesperson said they weren't sure if they had a list of site rules yet. 

KGW is planning to meet with them next week to find some clarity. 

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