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'It's a bunch of crap': Portland plans to remove camps along sections of Northeast 33rd Drive

This past fall, PBOT towed vehicles from the east side of Northeast 33rd Drive at the request of the Port of Portland. Campers have returned in force.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dozens of trailers, vehicles and broken-down RVs line both sides of Northeast 33rd Drive. It’s an area just off Marine Drive, west of the Portland International Airport, and over the years it has turned into a makeshift homeless village.

The seemingly never-ending line of camps has been a recent focus for the city. This past fall, they towed vehicles from the east side of the street at the request of the Port of Portland. Those camps on the east side were near the airport and potentially violated Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines. They also fell under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s ban on camping along high-crash corridors.

It's been six months since that happened and the camps are back. 

"They're just trying to pass the buck, sadly that's how it is … I think it’s a bunch of crap, honestly. People can only park where they can," said Randy, who lives in his car along the east side of Northeast 33rd Drive. He said it's one of the safest homeless camps in the city.

"It’s a good idea, because otherwise you've got trash on both sides," said Tim Coates, who ended up on that stretch after he lost his job and was evicted from an RV park about six months ago.

Coates now takes up a large stretch of the east side of the street. He pointed out nine vehicles, trailers and motorhomes that he claims are his.

"I'm a hustler," he said. "I help homeless people out who have nothing."

Coates said he lets other homeless people stay in his vehicles and trailers free of charge and tasks himself with cleaning up garbage along sections of the street.

It’s that type of buildup of vehicles and trailers that homeless people like Claire — who's lived on the opposite side of the street for three years — see as a sign of what's to come.

"I feel like they’re going to come in here and make all of us move pretty soon," she said, holding her small white dog close to her chest.  

Homeless people along Northeast 33rd Drive often say they aren’t offered any resources or help getting off the streets. However, the city said that they always give homeless people advance notice before removing camps and offer them resources such as shelter and free storage in return. About six months ago, when the Portland Bureau of Transportation towed vehicles from the east side of the street, they said only six people took them up on that offer.

There are many homeless people on that street who have told KGW reporter Blair Best in the past that drug use is one of the main reasons they can't get off the streets.

"We're not having to pay for living here, they're letting us, and a lot of people take advantage of it," Claire said.

When Best asked Tim if he would accept an offer for a shelter bed he said no, because it would mean he couldn't help other homeless people still on the street. 

He and others have a plan if they're told to move in the coming weeks, although it's not a long-term solution.

"I got a truck. I can tow anything, move anything," Tim said.

"I'd move until it wasn't safe anymore then I'd move back over," added Randy.

A spokesperson for the city said they are working with the Port of Portland to determine the next steps in the cleanup. Their goal is to have it cleared in the coming weeks.

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