THE WORD went out in late May, as police began a weeks-long mission to kick "entrenched" homeless people out of Portland's Central Eastside.
The sweeps were coming, a rumor said, but there was a place nearby where the cops wouldn't bug you: The same place where the city plans to house campers later this year.
So a once-vacant lot began to fill. The property where Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz are planning to put homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) was bursting with tents by the evening of Monday, June 1.
The change was staggering. In late April when I first visited the lot—an Oregon Department of Transportation-owned parcel on SE 3rd, just east of OMSI and the new Tilikum Crossing bridge—news of the city's plans hadn't yet seeped out ["The Search Is Off!" Hall Monitor, April 29]. There was one tent on the site, and a couple living in an old RV said they'd been staying there for months with no issues.
Now, less than a week after police began their most pronounced enforcement in years, it was the densest encampment on the Central Eastside.
"I just heard through word of mouth," said 21-year-old Hailey Parrish, as she worked on a bicycle inside the property on Monday, June 1. "People said to come here."
Parrish was just visiting, she said, but the dozens of people who followed that advice were in for disappointment. The city wants homeless camping at the site—just not this homeless camping. Police had posted notice that campers would need to be out soon.
It's just part of the fight blossoming around the land.
Central Eastside businesses hoping to keep R2DToo off the site are now arguing pop-up encampments like this will become the norm if Hales and Fritz get their way. The influential Central Eastside Industrial Council sent Hales a 10-page letter last month dripping with disdain for the proposal, saying Hales and Fritz are flouting city planning precedent and violating zoning laws with "contrived" arguments.
Business owners are also warning that legal encampments are going to spring up all over the city if the move occurs as planned. They argue it would create a precedent that, in some cases, renders Portland's anti-camping laws moot.
The dust-up revolves around the complexities of city land-use rules, but it's got real implications for people like Parrish. She'd been considering sleeping at the proposed R2DToo site, but didn't see the point if cleanup crews would be coming by in a few days. She'd already lost blankets and a bike frame in the sweeps, she said.
Then I talked to 43-year-old Mike Futch, who's been staying in that old RV for the past six months. Things had been peaceful all that time, he said, but now the lot had drawn heat and he was faced with the prospect of being pushed out with nowhere to go.
He blames R2DToo.
"They shouldn't have to throw us out to bring them here," he said. "We don't think it's a good idea."