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‘It’s a living nightmare’: Neighbors say houseless people are breaking into vacant homes in Southeast Portland

Neighbors said they've bought guns, installed security and barricaded their doors in an effort to stay safe as the area increasingly becomes a haven for squatters.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A line of RVs sat parked along Southeast 67th Avenue outside of two vacant homes late Thursday morning. Neighbors say the area has become a magnet for members of Portland's houseless community taking advantage of the unoccupied properties.

“It’s unbearable to watch your whole city become a dumpster fire,” said Annette Benedetti, who lives nearby. She described what it’s been like since a group of about 16 houseless people moved into the neighborhood.

“It’s a living nightmare,” added Dustin Shannon, another neighbor. “There’s no peace of mind, there is no sleeping well at night — every little noise, I’m jumpy.”

Shannon and his family have lived in this neighborhood for 19 years. His backyard is next to one of the vacant houses, which he said has been empty for over a year. Now, a group of houseless people has moved in.

“It just gets worse and worse by the day, more and more of them are showing up," he said. "Stolen cars are showing up, they’ve got a pile of garbage out back that is taller than me.”

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Shannon often picks up needles and trash from a path behind his house, one he used to let his grandson play in.

“Now we really can’t let him do that any longer,” he said. 

“My children can’t walk in the neighborhood safely anymore,” Benedetti agreed. 

She often hears gunshots and has had people run through her yard.

“I heard banging on this side of my wall last night, so I don’t sleep a lot,” she added. 

Both neighbors said they have called the police but received little response. They’ve now taken it into their own hands.

"We’ve barricaded our backdoor at this point, blocked it off," said Shannon. "We’re not gun proponents, but we’ve invested in that. We’ve got a security system in place and I keep a bat at both my back and front door.”

Portland Police Bureau records show three calls to this neighborhood this year: two premise checks and a "suspicious circumstances" call.

Sergeant Kevin Allen told KGW that the agency sympathizes with neighbors who feel unsafe, but wants to remind people that they are severely short staffed and that they address life safety and major crimes first. Other issues, like the ones in this neighborhood, either have to wait or can’t be addressed at all.

The Portland Police Bureau reports losing more than 250 officers since 2020 and expects to lose another 20 this month, making responding to problems like these even harder.

RELATED: Homeless people repeatedly break into North Portland apartment building

“It’s not OK, something needs to be done about all of it,” said Benedetti.

Living in one of the RVs is 27-year-old Bridgette Miller and her husband.

“I’m just here to f***ing sleep, I’m just here to f***ing sleep,” she said, holding back tears.

“I work for a living I don’t just sit here and do drugs and mess up everybody’s sh** all day," Miller continued, "and it ruins my reputation and it’s hard for me, because everybody hates me already without knowing me.”

Miller had been plugging her air conditioning into an outlet in one of the vacant homes. At around noon on Thursday, the property maintenance manager told her to leave.

“It sucks. It really sucks," she said. She's now off to find the next neighborhood to call home. 

“We’re trying to get an apartment ... because it hurts my pride really, I’m not a bad person," she said. 

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The property maintenance manager said the house on Southeast 67th Avenue had been broken into and showed KGW evidence of people staying there.

“Whoever broke in told this person, who was squatting out front, that they could plug in and use the power — except it’s not their building to allow that,” he said. “The city of Portland is doing almost nothing except pushing people around."

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