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Southeast Portland homeless camp putting neighbors in danger, residents say

Residents said the violence at a camp on Southeast 157th Avenue and Division Street is getting out of hand.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A homeless camp in Southeast Portland is causing major problems for nearby businesses and putting residents in danger, according to neighbors. 

The camp is on Southeast 157th Avenue and Division Street. KGW first reported on it earlier this month when neighbors said it was taking over an RV and mobile home park and making life for the tenants there unbearable.

“A lot of drugs, a lot of violence, a lot of yelling and of course it happens at 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Nicole Blue who lives next door to the camp at Bridge Street Apartments.

“Violence, I would say, is the big thing. We have on a weekly basis a gentleman who likes to have a machete out, guns pulled,” added the property manager, Cameo Whitney-Starbuck. 

Local day care owner Kimberly Thompson added that the camp is affecting her business since she believes parents are afraid to send their kids there.

“The road’s blocked. Drug deals, fights. There was one day where a car hit another car,” she said.

She’s considered moving her business, but it’s been there for 11 years.

“Every time I do go by there, it’s frustrating because you can’t get through. It's frustrating what you see. It’s a little scary,” she said.

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“No one really wants to be this close to what looks like danger. If it’s not, it sure looks like it,” said Starbuck.

Those living at the camp have broken into Starbuck’s apartment complex, costing the company thousands of dollars in repairs. They’ve spent $20,000 on a new security guard.

“Just so that at night we weren’t having to sit here in the parking lot to man the safety of the property itself.”

Since the camp moved in several months ago, about a half dozen families have moved out of the apartments.

"Units that they break into, laundry rooms that they break into, steal laundry. They defecate and leave needles in our laundry rooms and vacant units if they can find them."

Starbuck doesn't feel she is able to keep the tenants safe.

“It was a great place to live for five years,” said Blue, who’s lived at Bridge City Apartments for seven years and has watched the camp grow.  

“It’s a lot of anxiety. My daughter is 14 years old. She’ll be 15 in September and I don’t even let her stand out at the school bus stop.”

The school bus picks her up a block away. She wants to move but said she can’t afford to.

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“I feel stuck, you know, because everything is going up. I’m a single mother."

Blue said her garbage bill doubled because those living at the camp use her dumpster.

“Bringing dolly carts full of garbage over here and then they just throw it and leave it all there, and then we have to pay for it.”

Residents has called the authorities multiple times.

“We actually have a timer that goes off every single week that we make sure that we’re staying on that list but to no avail. We’ve gotten nothing,” said Starbuck.

“I have called nonemergency, I’ve called emergency, I have called the state, I have called the city, I have called everybody that can listen and most of the time, I get 'okay, yeah, you’re caller like caller one thousand and something,” added Blue.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the city of Portland told KGW that the camp at 157th and Division is on their radar. They said they’ve sent groups over to clean up trash but are waiting on the Bureau of Transportation since a majority of the camp is made up of vehicles. The Bureau of Transportation is expected to assess the camp this week. 

The city said this isn’t the worst camp in the city. Just last week, they received 1,787 reports about other camps, and many pose a higher health and safety risk.

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