The Montavilla Neighborhood Association says it's sick of the camp sweeps that temporarily displace members of Portland's growing homeless population, only to see them return a short while later.
So on Monday, the association's board passed what might be a first-of-its-kind resolution for a Portland neighborhood. It's asking City Hall to stop the sweeps.
"The Montavilla Neighborhood Association Board of Directors has passed a resolution opposing further sweeps of homeless camps within the Montavilla Neighborhood Boundaries," reads an announcement posted earlier today on the neighborhood association's web page. "Our Board of Directors finds these sweeps to be an ineffective waste of taxpayer dollars that may violate the constitutional and human rights of the individuals who have their camps swept. Whether or not rights are violated, the sweeps are inhumane and do not result in positive outcomes for the homeless or for adjacent housed residents as the camps almost always return days, weeks, or months later or migrate to another neighborhood becoming another neighborhood’s problem."
The resolution, passed by the MNA's board in a not-quite-unanimous vote, asks the city to cease sweeping homeless camps in the Montavilla neighborhood, which sits between Mount Tabor and interstates 84 and 205.
The association is also calling on Portland City Council to bring together a wide array of stakeholders that can "develop a responsible 5-year plan to address homelessness" by pursuing long term solutions: affordable housing, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and more. (The A Home For Everyone task force is pursuing many of those same things).
Lastly, Montavilla neighbors are asking other neighborhood associations to join their call against sweeps. Here's a copy of the resolution the neighborhood association approved.
Monday's vote came the same day officials revealed that Portland's homeless population appears to have increased by 10 percent since 2015, though the number of unsheltered homeless residents has actually decreased as the city opened more shelter space. And it comes at a time when Mayor Ted Wheeler has allocated more money to camp cleanups and sweeps, and has placed a premium on working with various Portland-area governments to coordinate cleanups in response to hundreds of weekly complaints.
The arguments raised by the MNA aren't new. Homeless advocates have said for years that camp sweeps only disrupt people's already difficult lives, without helping them find homes or address other issues. Wheeler has agreed with that sentiment, but also placed an emphasis on not allowing large numbers of homeless campers to convene in one area. He's had sharp words in recent days for the enormous camps that sprang up on the Springwater Corridor trail under Mayor Charlie Hales.
It's unclear how Wheeler will respond to the MNA's resolution. A spokesman has assured the Mercury he will get back to us. We're also waiting to speak with MNA Board Chair Jonnie Shaver about the decision.
Update, Wednesday, 9 am: We got ahold of Shaver, the MNA board chair, who explains the board doesn't view its resolution as anything controversial or out-of-step with its other efforts—such as creating a warming shelter for the homeless during the winter's snow storms.
"For us it was just a continuation of that process of supporting our neighbors," Shaver says.
Homelessness has grown more visible in Montavilla as in many parts of the city in the last year—particularly near the intersection of NE Halsey and 82nd, Shaver says. The issue is wearing increasingly on neighbors, but the MNA board believes that sweeping homeless communities both pushes the problem to other neighborhoods, and has the potential to increase crime when people lose their belongings.
"Camps pop up, they're swept, they pop up again," Shaver says. "It's untenable."
The MNA has been working to get more needle disposal containers and public restrooms to help address the problem, focusing on more hygienic circumstances rather than pushing campers elsewhere. Shaver's not sure what type of reaction to expect from Wheeler.
We're still waiting on a response from Wheeler's office.
Update, 12:04 pm:
Wheeler's office tells the Mercury that citizen complaints trump the wishes of the neighborhood association. Wheelers spokesperson Michael Cox asked staffers in Portland's One Point of Contact program for stats, and says he was told Montavilla residents complain about homeless camps in the neighborhood between 20 and 50 times per week.
"We have an obligation to respond to the concerns of those residents," says Cox. "We have a process for evaluating which camps we’re going to clean, and it really has to do with threats to the environment, threats to public health, threats to public safety."
Cox says that many of the complaints that come into the city from the neighborhood actually involve Oregon Department of Transportation land near I-205, but that there aren't many "active camping situations" in Montavilla right now.
In the mean time, other Montavilla neighbors are incensed by the neighborhood association's actions.
"It’s like saying the Montavilla neighborhood is a sanctuary for homelessness and all that it brings," said a woman named Victoria who phoned the Mercury this morning.
In response to Wheeler's reaction, the MNA is sticking to its guns.
"Even the small vocal group of neighbors that oppose our resolution realize the same campers come back again and again," the association said in a statement today. "If the City is connecting them to services it clearly isn't the right services or possibly not even shelter beds."