And, man, did it ever. For more than an hour, residents complained about the homeless camp that sprang up this summer near N Greeley and Killingsworth. They came away with a surprising conclusion: That the city should create a public list of anyone living at the camp, so that neighbors can do their own background checks of the homeless people nearby. That and other suggestions will be set down in a letter OKNA plans to sent to the mayor's office in coming days.
As we've reported, Hazelnut Grove is on the verge of getting a formal permit from the City of Portland, a move that Mayor Charlie Hales' office says will make it easier to clear out some of the problematic activity that's sprung up nearby (there are technically two camps on the land now: Hazelnut Grove and a group that calls itself Forgotten Realms).
There was, as I say, a good deal of woe in the room last night, with the majority of people plainly indignant that Hales would allow a camp in Overlook.
It was ugly at times. Nearly everyone who spoke pledged compassion for the homeless, and said they'd do anything to help the problem—except allow the camp to stay. Many professed a worry for the safety of campers at the spot, since it's near busy Greeley (but also adjacent to a sidewalk and bike route). Mainly, though, there was anger about trash, concerns about "panhandlers" filtering up into the neighborhood, and an overwhelming belief that such camps are Hales' big "solution" to homelessness (which is wrong). One guy painted a Mad Max-ian future that involved an Overlook strewn with warring homeless camps. "That's what we're going to have to live with, or we move."
Some other telling quotes:
"I'm all for doing everything we possibly can to help homelessness. This is not a viable option."
"Someone's gonna stagger out into the road. It's gonna ruin the life of a worker who's going to [Swan Island] to work."
"We're at the kids table. We're getting scraps. [City Hall is] ignoring you guys and it really pisses me off. I'm a compassionate guy, but this sucks."
"The mayor has rolled over."
Several people had listened to a segment on OPB's Think Out Loud this week, and come away with the belief everyone at Hazelnut Grove is homeless as a lifestyle choice. The program interviewed three people in camp who said that was the case, and two who said they had nowhere else to go.
It wasn't all negative. Four people spoke passionately about the fact that the city doesn't have enough resources to accommodate homeless people, so there's no "better" place to campers to be.
"It's not more safe for them to try to find a dry place every night," one woman said. "Being homeless is unsafe."
Another neighbor, former Oregon Law Center litigation director Spencer Neal, said the discussion was "offensive." "These people are struggling to survive, and people are talking about it being unsightly," he said.
But the thrust of the conversation wouldn't be turned, and the OKNA came away with the idea of a public roster (the occupancy of Hazelnut Grove, once permitted, could be anywhere from 25 to 40 people, the mayor's office has said). Don't count on the mayor's office agreeing.
The roster idea was actually a step back from another popular option, which was the city running compulsory background checks as a condition of people being allowed to live in the camp.
Another thing the OKNA will seek? A lawyer's opinion. The association says the mayor's office has refused to listen to its pleas re: Hazelnut Grove and that a lawsuit may be its only option. Members were pretty clear, though, that they don't know where the money would come from.