Southeast Portland’s Laurelhurst Park has been home to a growing homeless encampment, with about 100 people estimated to be living there. The city of Portland posted a notice last week in the park that it plans to sweep the camp, prompting protesters to gather at the park this week, decrying the city’s attempt to displace those living at the park.
On Friday, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan released a joint statement, defending the proposed sweeps and condemning some protesters who reportedly vandalized a building on Thursday night.
According to a spokesperson from Ryan’s office, some protesters vandalized Rapid Response Bio Clean, a chemical and biological cleanup service in Southeast Portland. The city has a contract with that company to clean up homeless camp sites after sweeps.
Portland police said demonstrators broke two windows and spray-painted the words “sweeps kill” on the front of the business.
Wheeler and Ryan condemned the property damage, stating that the business is “dedicated to helping people living outside manage their campgrounds by cleaning biohazards and human waste to mitigate the spread of virulent diseases, including COVID-19.”
Ryan oversees the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
John Mayer, the director of Portland homeless services organization Beacon PDX, said the vandalism at Rapid Response was not associated with the organized aid that demonstrators have been providing to those living at the park.
“Somebody was acting on their own accord and every communication channel I have engaged with today has been disappointed at this event,” Mayer said.
Mayer said his team is at the park daily serving food to residents, and they have been moved by the outpouring of support for the houseless population there.
“There have been dozens of private vehicles filled with trash taken to the dump on individuals’ own time and dime,” he said. “There has been food and gear and an influx of outreach happening with our friends. I have witnessed now six people being accepted to shelter and others who we have facilitated in voluntary moves to other parts of the sidewalk. Residents have been sweeping the sidewalk, clearing debris and partaking in beautiful and healthy food being offered at their doorstep.”
The city officials also said that while they supported providing “compassionate alternatives for people currently experiencing houselessness,” they had to ensure they were keeping rights-of-way, businesses, natural areas and neighborhoods safe. They said some of the campers were “unwilling or unable” to maintain COVID-safe physical distancing or ADA accessibility guidelines.
In their statement, Wheeler and Ryan said city officials ensured there were “safe alternatives” for homeless people who are camping at Laurelhurst before posting a notice that they planned to sweep the area.
A spokesperson for Ryan’s office said people staying in the park were offered shelter at the Mount Scott Community Center, and that city employees had referred 52 people to the shelter. But she said the city does not have a count of how many people actually went there.
—Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; firstname.lastname@example.org; @JRamakrishnanOR