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‘I’m taking over’: North Portland homeless encampment charges rent for houseless people to stay

The city knows of 776 high-risk campsites across Portland, including one off North Columbia Boulevard that’s been there for more than a year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The rumbling sounds of generators echoes through the woods off North Columbia Boulevard. Down a dirt path, surrounded by gates and overgrown bushes, sit about 50 broken-down vehicles, RVs and tents.

“This is Grace’s Oasis,” said Joseph Juhala, one of the dozen people experiencing homelessness who live in the makeshift village. “It’s supposed to be an easy-going community.”

About three years ago, Angel Grace Brown moved her tent onto the city-owned land here. She describes it as a safe place, and over the years she invited others to camp there as well. Now she charges people $200 per month to camp there. Some of that money goes toward camp maintenance.

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“I’ve been watching this place for about three or four years,” she said, walking down the dirt path that leads to her RV and campsite. It's tucked away in the trees by the railroad tracks. "It’s safe. It’s behind fences.”

Brown acknowledges that the camp sits on city property but said she's "taking over” regardless.

She put up "no trespassing" signs and chains to try and keep people out. As for camp rules, she says people aren’t allowed to steal or “do anything illegal.”

“We’re just trying to make a safe haven for us away from the city, because they’re not treating us well at all,” Brown said.

According to Brown, city shelters and organized camps don’t work — or they're too temporary — and many people, like herself, end up back on the streets.

“You’re looking at a person who couldn’t get any help,” she said.

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Next door to the camp is Curt's RV Storage, a family-owned RV and trailer storage park that’s been in Jeffrey White’s family since the 1970s.

“We’re at a loss right now,” said White. He says that people living in the camp have stolen from his storage yard. “Our customers on the RV side are having their gas being taken out, the catalytic converters are being taken, some RVs have been broke into.”

White and his family have called police and every city official.

“Nobody wants to even respond,” he said.

“The Portland police said, 'Handle it yourself, don’t call us,'” added Virgil Adkins, who parks his tow truck in the storage yard. His truck has been stolen twice, along with $2,000 worth of tools. “That’s what I use for my business, it’s how I make my living.”

Meanwhile, Adkins has been watching the camp grow.

“It’s gotten bigger. It was only a few campers at first — now it’s a whole neighborhood.”

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Those living at the camp said they aren’t stealing from Curt's RV and Storage.

“Nobody’s been up there stealing anything. Anything that was stolen was from a long time ago,” explained Juhala.

The city tells KGW they assessed this site last week and determined it was a high-risk site. It has since been added to their removal list, which is an impending fear for those who call this place home.

“We take care of each other and we’re not trying to cause trouble,” said Juhala.

“I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong,” added Brown.

The city assesses hundreds of high-risk sites like this one each week. Right now, they know of 776 high-risk campsites across the city. They only have enough resources to remove 50 per week.

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