KNOCK KNOCK: Portland cops awake, then arrest, one of the city's many campers. Photo by Dirk VanderHart

WILLUS HAS BEEN told he can't camp off the Springwater Corridor—certainly not on this small expanse of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) property that's bursting, this time of year, with pink sweet pea and small piles of garbage.

But here he sits, on an overcast Tuesday morning in July, squinting up at four Portland cops and not making any attempt to conceal a meth pipe in the gray-and-orange tent that's been parked on the property for weeks.

Willus was warned—formally, with a city-issued exclusion order—and this morning he's going to jail.

"Gosh damn, you guys," he tells the cops who, along with a BES employee, are outside the tent. He's not angry, just resigned. "I can't go on the corridor trail anymore?"

The camper is escorted away, along with many of his possessions. But much of the campsite stays behind—tent, blue mattress, an Oregon State Beavers throw blanket being used as a sort of doormat, white New Balance shoes in good condition, and more.

This is where the contractors come in.

Earlier this year, the city announced an agreement with a local security firm, Pacific Patrol Services (PPS), to clean up the campsites that BES and other bureaus are increasingly battling along the Springwater ["Sweeping Up," News, April 9]. The move was pitched as a way for the city to keep track of property seized in such cleanups, as mandated by a 2012 settlement in federal court with aggrieved campers.

From April 1 to June 3, the city paid out more than $4,000 for the services, split between administrative costs and six cleanups, according to records the Mercury obtained under the state's public records law. That's a pittance of the more than $200,000 the city has agreed to pay, if needed, for the fiscal year that began July 1.

But it's also only part of the cost associated with this work. In the same amount of time, the city paid at least $2,260 for inmate work crews who do the bulk of actual cleanup at campsites. Police officers and bureau staffers also stay on hand for hours, records show.

The contractors, in fact, have a relatively narrow job—one that might be just as easily accomplished by a dedicated city worker as by specially hired workers. That's a reality acknowledged by Portland Parks and Recreation, which has eschewed using PPS employees in favor of its own staff ["Going It Alone," News, June 4].

Contract workers determine which leftover belongings they should collect (which will be saved for 30 days), and what refuse inmate workers should toss. And they snap pictures and file small narratives of the cleanup, complete with an inventory of confiscated items.

Inevitably, the bulk of leavings are thrown out, though documents indicate PPS workers have put dozens of items into storage—bicycles, fire extinguishers, a children's train set.

As part of its contract with the city, Pacific Patrol Services has to make itself available if campers call to claim any of those items from a city-owned facility at 9748 SW Barbur (map), near SW Taylors Ferry. But it's unclear if any such pickups have occurred. Some—like Eli Callison, who oversees cleanups for BES—doubt any of the items will ever be claimed.

The Portland Office of Management and Finance stands by the cleanup contractors as valuable assets.

"PPS plays a coordinating role, and they provide consistency in the larger process across bureaus," says spokeswoman Abby Coppock. "PPS coordinates all parties involved at a site, including inmate crews, police dumpster vendors, and hazardous waste removal."

The city recently modified its pay structure for that work. Under the original contract, PPS was paid $703.24 a day, even if workers were only at it an hour. Under an amended agreement that kicked in July 1, contractors are paid for four hours at a minimum—earning between $25 and $30 an hour—and by the hour after that.

On the Tuesday that Willus was arrested, two PPS contractors arrived well after Callison and police officers had walked through the warren of paths set between the Springwater and Johnson Creek near SE Lambert to offer warning. For more than a week, campers had notice a cleanup was coming, and most moved on, leaving many sites impressively clean.

Still, three campers, including Willus, remained. And there was an abandoned pink tent, along with sizeable trash piles. The PPS contractors, who declined to give their names or answer questions, quickly packed up the pink tent, and made short work stuffing Willus' leavings into a clear plastic bin. (PPS contractors' last names are listed on city reports, at least.)

They stopped only briefly at what was the property's largest mess, a site littered with, among other things, old mayonnaise jars and rotting meat and, strangely, a plastic filing cabinet filled with empty files.

"Yeah," said one of the contractors. "We need to let the inmates come in here."