PORTLAND, Ore. — Homeless camps and trash sites are building up along Northeast Airport Way between Northeast 138th and 148th avenues, near the Portland Costco.
“It’s like we don’t care, we don’t care at all, so we just dump it here,” said William Strong. “It’s sad to see people having to live with this kind of stuff and it’s kind of angering, makes me angry, because there’s nothing they can do that seems to stop it.”
Strong has lived in Portland for 50 years. Each week, he drives along Airport Way, watching the homeless encampments and piles of garbage multiply.
“You look at this, this is worse actually than the last time my wife came by,” he said, pointing to what looks like an abandoned encampment right across the street from Costco.
The next site is on a levee off of 138th Avenue.
“There’s a campground down here on the left,” he said as we drove along the dirt road past the broken-down cars, sewage and old tires.
“It’s sickening because there’s cans of chemicals and foam rubber and it’s like this all the way down,” Strong continued, pointing to the piece of an RV that collects waste from sinks and toilets. “Now it’s just sitting here.”
At the bottom of the levee, hidden by trees, is a homeless camp.
“There’s a pathway of what looks like plywood underneath the ground that goes over to a truck or an RV,” Strong pointed out.
We walked past a man taking tires from a broken-down Honda.
“I know the city’s overwhelmed,” Strong said. “I don’t know how they can let this continue out here.”
Last week the city received 1,783 new homeless campsite reports. They observed 327 of them and talked with the campers at another 541. They cleaned 30 and removed 45.
This specific site along Airport Way wasn’t on the list.
Metro’s RID patrol team responds to reports of dumped garbage. They’ve received about 10 reports of sites along Airport Way in the past few months, which they said isn’t a lot.
“We do know that there are some areas like these higher instance corridors like Airport Way and the freeways, and of those things where it’s harder to get those reports to come in,” said Kimberlee Ables, the Metro’s public information officer.
Ables said the majority of their reports come from residential areas where there’s more foot traffic, but that’s not the only reason these sites on the outskirts of the city aren’t getting cleaned.
Airport Way is broken up into multiple jurisdictions: the Department of State Lands, the Port of Portland and the City of Portland, which makes it challenging for people to know which department is responsible for cleaning each section of land.
“We do know that it’s confusing — everything about the garbage and recycling is confusing, about who picks up what, about how we are managing our houseless population is confusing ... it all kinds of ties together,” Ables said.
The state just gave Metro $10 million to try and clear up the confusion by delegating each campsite report to the correct agency.
“And we’re doing a really good job at that piece which is why the state was willing to give us these funds to really lead in this effort,” said Ables.
However, it’s up to the community to report sites like this one.
“There’s such a contrast between the sound of the birds and the trash on the ground,” said Strong as he walked back to the car. “Boy, I don’t know how they’re going to solve it.”
New legislation is coming up this summer that will try and cut down on the amount of bulky garbage that lines the streets, such as refrigerators, furniture and tires. Metro is also asking for the community to share ideas on the changes they would like to see made when it comes to preventing garbage sites.