PORTLAND, Ore. — The streets of Portland have been home to Steven Black for seven years. He will tell you it has not been easy. The 51-year-old points to November 2020 when his camp at Laurelhurst Park was swept by the city. Black lost a tent, a bike, a sleeping bag and clothes. Black said he went to the Rapid Response warehouse to claim his belongings, but it was all gone.
"They're supposed to photograph all your stuff and itemize it but they throw it in with everyone else's and they put it in a pile and mark what sweep it's from and you have dishonest people go in and claim your property," Black said. "They let it go and don't do anything about it. It's aggravating."
An aggravated Black is part of a class action lawsuit filed against the city of Portland Monday. Attorney Michael Fuller says the goal of the lawsuit is to get the city to follow Oregon law that requires the city to store any property from a homeless camp sweep and make it reasonably available to the people who own it.
"It didn't occur to me how devastating it can be when everything you have is with you on the street, you get swept meaning moved down a few blocks, or kind of like moving a car that keeps getting tickets, and having the few things you own in life taken and misplaced by the city," Fuller said.
The lawsuit comes as the city pledges to clear more homeless camps. The city will focus on camps with eight or more tents, a history of violence or crime, and those blocking sidewalks and pathways.
KGW's Maggie Vespa hit the streets Monday and found no signs of sweeps or signs warning of them. Business owners are not terribly surprised.
"None of us are satisfied," said Amanda Frese. "We're just being told what we want to hear. What will pacify us another month, another two months."
Frese hopes the sweeps start up sooner rather than later. When they do, Black is hoping the city shows some compassion and does not lose the few things he and the rest of the houseless community own.
"Something needs to be done more positive," Black said. "The way the city is handling the sweeps isn't the answer."
KGW reached out to Mayor Ted Wheeler's office for a comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson said the city does not comment on pending litigation.