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‘I’m not an animal’: Homeless people along NE 33rd Drive left hopeless after city clears vehicle camps

The Portland Bureau of Transportation started towing vehicles on the east side of NE 33rd Drive last Thursday at the request of the Port of Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Cars sped past dozens of RVs, trucks and trailers parked along Northeast 33rd Drive Thursday morning. Inside the parked vehicles lining the roadway were people with no other home than wheeled ones they occupied.

Many who live there say it’s a community that’s grown over the years. However, this busy homeless refuge has increasingly turned into a dead end, as city crews began clearing the camps last week.

“Where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to do?” asked Shelby Ryan, who has lived on the street for a year.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation started towing vehicles on the east side of the street last Thursday at the request of Port of Portland. The city said that since the camps on the east side of the street were near Portland International Airport, they were potentially violating Federal Aviation Administration regulations. They also fell under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s ban on camping along high-crash corridors.

RELATED: City removes certain homeless camps along NE 33rd & Marine Drive

“They come and they take everything from you,” Ryan explained. “They take your house, trailers, and they just leave you on the side of the road.”

PBOT just cleared Ryan's RV, truck and trailer. So far, they’ve removed five RVs and 12 passenger vehicles along this stretch of roadway. The city’s Rapid Response Teams picked up the leftover trash once the vehicles were gone.

“They took everything from us, and we didn’t understand why. If you’re homeless they are going to make us more homeless,” Ryan said.

A week before towing, PBOT said that crews notified those living on the east side of Northeast 33rd Drive and offered them shelter. Six people took them up on that offer. However, Ryan said she prefers to live outside.

“They try to control you and I don’t want to be controlled. I’m not an animal,” she said.

So Ryan moved to the other side of the street and is now living in a friend's RV. A few cars down is Michelle Vraspir, who said that the city moved her RV to this street seven months ago.

RELATED: Longtime Portland business says it's losing customers due to large homeless camp

“They told me that I was going to be able to be here for longer than I was at my last spot and it hasn’t even been half as much time,” said Vraspir.

The city told KGW last year that they towed a few RVs, like Vraspir’s, from other areas that posed health and safety hazards. They moved them to Northeast 33rd Drive because city parking enforcement crews believed it was the best option at the time.

“Every time you get comfortable, somebody else from the city tells you you don’t belong here,” said Vraspir.

“It’s like looking over your shoulder every minute, every second,” added another woman who is homeless and camps along this street.

After PBOT finishes clearing the side of the street near the airport, they may turn to removing the camps on the other side. KGW asked those still living there if they had a plan if the city clears them. Many didn’t, despite the resources being offered to them. 

“I would tell the city to take a deeper look at the people out here,” said Ryan. “We’re not out here because we want to be. We’re out here because this is where they put us. We try to get out, get jobs, get back on our feet and they just won’t let us.”

RELATED: ‘Make it clear for us’: Portland college student among group with disabilities suing city over tents on sidewalks

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