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Frustrated Southwest Portland neighbors plant roses to deter campers

Neighbors said they don't want to demonize the homeless, but they do want to feel safe.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Neighbors dealing with Portland’s homeless crisis were tired of seeing piles of trash, human waste, needles and tents along an encampment at 14th Avenue and Montgomery Street in Southwest Portland. 

Fires have broken out at the camp at least twice. Some neighbors said they have also been harassed and don't feel safe.

“Not only is it an eyesore, but just kind of a safety component that goes with it too, walking past the encampment at night, it's a little shady,” said AJ Ricca, who lives nearby.

Neighbors said they don't want to demonize the homeless, but they do want to feel safe. After repeated issues, they decided it was time to reclaim their street.

Credit: Lindsay Nadrich/KGW

About five weeks ago, a group of neighbors raised $700 to clean up garbage, human waste and needles left behind by one of the camps. They planted about 80 rose bushes in its place, with decorative ribbons tied around each one, and added a hand-painted sign that reads, "Portland, City of Roses."

“I think it's great,” said Zac Preciso, who also lives in the area. “I think it's a step in the right direction in moving forward and kind of getting trash and everything else just kind of cleaned up and more presentable.”

The Oregon Department of Transportation owns the land and, upon learning that the roses were planted on ODOT property without a permit, told neighbors the rose bushes had to be removed by April 1.

Related: Does Portland sweep homeless camps during extreme cold?

“We so appreciate that they want to do this because, you know, we can't be everywhere all the time, and people wanting to take ownership for their own area is terrific," said ODOT spokeswoman Angela Beers Seydel. "But we do have a process for doing these kinds of things and we appreciate people working with us on doing it right.” 

ODOT is now working with neighbors to get a permit and said the roses can stay, but the handmade sign and the ribbons need to go.

“We are asking that those be removed because they could be safety hazards, a distraction to drivers and actually contribute to trash in the area if they don't stay tied to the roses,” Beers Seydel explained.

Neighbors disagree, telling KGW the sign and ribbons are just as important and said it is no more of a distraction than the piles of trash that were once there. That issue has yet to be resolved.

In the meantime, many said the new plants seem to be making a difference. Only one tent has returned to the area where the roses are planted. The rest are now farther down the road.

“Very, very big difference, definitely not a lot of tents or little encampments there, so it seems to be working,” Ricca said.

The group that planted the roses said they plan to keep working with ODOT, but also said, “We are handling our community our way now.”