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Portland’s homeless crisis worsens along Marine Drive, land ownership muddles response

KGW met up with two 'The Story' viewers to see what's happening in Northeast Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's obvious Portland's homeless crisis has touched almost every corner of the city, but a stretch of Marine Drive in Northeast Portland serves as a good example of the struggles faced by houseless individuals and the city's ability (or lack thereof) to sweep various patches of both public and private land.

A KGW crew traveled to two sites suggested by The Story viewers, Jim Carr and Matt Blanchard. 

Carr wanted to meet at city-owned Well 15 near Northeast 185th Avenue. The well is part of the city's water infrastructure. Carr, a retired Portland Parks employee with a background in horticulture, is concerned about a camp growing around Well 15. 

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"You have vehicles that are being stripped down. You have the antifreeze, all the fluids from the vehicles... all of that is now migrating down into the watershed," Carr said. "For us to just look the other way and say, 'Oh, that's OK, it's only for a while.' But is it only for a while?"

He's worried those fluids, and even human waste, could eventually make their way into Portland's drinking water. KGW reached out to Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who heads up the Portland Water Bureau. He said Portland's water is safe to drink, and said the aquifers that feed Well 15 are solid and nearly 200 feet underground. 

"Portlanders can rest assured that their water is safe to drink ... We are not currently operating the Columbia South Shore Well Field, but it stands ready in case winter storms stir up any issues in the Bull Run," Mapps said in an email. 

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After visiting the Well, the KGW crew headed west with Mark Blanchard, who regularly bikes in the area. They saw a burned out RV, cars stripped for their parts and tents near the Glenn Jackson Bridge/I-205.

The crew was interviewing Blanchard along the bike path, when a driver careened off the road and into the path, toward a campsite. 

"I was born and raised here so I've ridden this multiple times, and I've seen it get more and more extreme," Blanchard said. "I've had it where I've been on the path and actually had a car coming at me on the bike path."

Blanchard said he also wanted to meet because of Portland's struggle with rising crime. His sister-in-law's car was stolen, and she found in the camp nearby, stripped and totaled.

"It wasn't the police who were able to get that. It was a Good Samaritan finding out here," Blanchard said. 

Both Carr and Blanchard are adamant: they don't blame the chaos along Marine Drive on the people living there. They do believe most are struggling.

One man camping near I-205 wouldn't go on camera, but said he's shocked by the rampant crime, and that he's a prophet who built Portland with his mind. 

Another man camping nearby said he works and can afford an apartment, but can't get one because he has a criminal record. He said no landlords will rent to him.

"We're not happy when people just dump stolen cars here in the first place," a third man camping in the area named Derrick told KGW. "We're humans and we don't really appreciate being talked to like we're trash. We're just trying to survive like everybody else. We're just having a little harder of a time."

When it comes to sweeping camps off Marine Drive property, the city's response has been lackluster, they said, because of a mix of property ownership along the water, that includes the City of Portland, Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Port of Portland, along with private owners. 

If you'd like to see who owns a particular parcel of land along Marine Drive, or anywhere in Portland for that matter, you can check out PortlandMaps.com. 

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