Editors Note: Article was updated Nov 11, 2020 with formatting fixes of the emails.
News out of the HUCIRP (Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program) is that they will not be sweeping the Laurelhurst houseless camp today, but are still promising to do so sometime this week. In a letter in response to my request to cancel this sweep, the city stated that the camp in Laurelhurst has repeatedly met guidelines for removal since before the COVID pandemic hit. They state they have made shelter referrals for some people, and are timing the sweep with a new winter shelter opening at the Mt. Scott Community Center, but did not address a number of concerns that I brought up with their management of the program. Below is my email to the city and the response.
I’m strongly urging you -not- to use the HUCIRP program to sweep Laurelhurst Park, or any other parks, at this time. While people may not like the visual look of homeless camps in our city, all that sweeping the camps does is put houseless individuals at risk of increased medical issues, an increased liklihood of criminal activity on their part in order to recover items that have been taken into storage, and ultimately increase the risk of death as we have more and more nights below freezing.
I have been homeless myself in Portland in the middle of winter, and I know that I was one of the fortunate ones to be able to get a shelter bed. Many, for a variety of reasons are not able to use those services, be it a lack of capacity, service/companion animals, or inability to safely store personal belongings, or many other factors. Houseless people rarely choose to be houseless, but evicting them from their homes and taking their belongings, in the beginning of the winter season in a pandemic is especially cruel.
We have an eviction moratorium in Multnomah County and the state at this time. Just because these people don’t have walls of wood or stone around them doesn’t make them less deserving of shelter.
Heather Van Wilde
Good Evening Heather-
Thank you for contacting the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program regarding the cleanup and removal of homeless encampments in and around Laurelhurst Park. Your feedback will be logged and shared with the decision-makers involved in this cleanup.
A link to HUCIRP’s COVID 19 Phase 1 Campsite Cleanup/Removal protocol can be found HERE. This protocol was developed by Portland City Council, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and Multnomah County Health Department. The decision to clean Laurelhurst Park is consistent with the thoroughly vetted processes and outreach efforts articulated in the Phase 1 Protocol.
We first sent our Navigation Team to Laurelhurst Park in August to work with campers. This team is comprised of outreach workers from Transition Projects and Central City Concern and outreach clinicians from Cascadia Behavioral Health. Their main goal was to share the new camping guidelines, make shelter referrals and complete vulnerability assessments for permanent supportive housing. They also provided support for people who wanted to go to detox and be treated for substance use disorder. When cleanup crews began cleanup/removal, most individuals had repositioned their spaces to be compliant with CDC guidance. Cleanup crews only removed camper-identified garbage at that time.
Unfortunately, park conditions reverted back to non-compliance with CDC guidance. We again repeated our efforts in the weeks leading up to Friday September 25th. Once again, when cleanup crews returned to clear the area, we were pleased to find most people had repositioned themselves; crews only removed trash that campers had set aside for crews to remove.
Conditions worsened only a few days later despite ongoing efforts by crews visiting daily for trash mitigation and biohazard removal. These conditions have persisted since early October. When it was announced the Mt. Scott Community Center would be a 24/7 Winter shelter, we timed our outreach and removal efforts to coincide with the shelter’s opening. The Navigation Team then started reaching out to campers at Laurelhurst, and last week they were able to make 15 shelter referrals. We hope to build on that success this week prior to the removal.
Please understand that the decision to clean and clear encampments at Laurelhurst Park was only made after several attempts to provide services to campers. This site at Laurelhurst has consistently met our thresholds for posting and removal since before the initial shutdown back in March. We have spent the last nine months coordinating closely with outreach providers to try to get campers to comply with public health guidance and those attempts, again, have not been successful. Our outreach team is back at this location today (11/9) to follow up with folks to offer shelter and services before we move forward with the site removal this week.
City of Portland, Office of Management and Finance
Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program