- Denis C. Theriault
- Amid ongoing maintenance concerns over the park bathrooms, labor unions have already are paying for portable toilets at Occupy Portland.
Occupiers last night told me that was because Parks Commissioner Nick Fish last week had stopped all maintenance at Chapman and Lownsdale squares—and Fish's office this morning confirmed that's exactly what happened.
Parks workers are no longer allowed to service the two encampments—meaning no more ranger walk-throughs, trash pickup, and bathroom maintenance—and the city instead has provided the dumpsters, with plans for twice-a-week pickup.
The decision was made shortly after last week's arrests at Terry D. Schrunk Plaza, says Fish's policy director, Jim Blackwood—and it was reinforced by reports of violence and drug use so pervasive that even some occupiers are starting to question the camp's tolerance for marginalized homeless and mentally ill Portlanders.
"Based on what we've heard from Portland Police Bureau, we didn't consider that a safe environment for parks employees," Blackwood says. "They're all pulled out. Even the PPB says they're nervous working in there. There's no good reason, since those aren't really parks anymore, they're camps now, to have them in there."
Blackwood said each pickup costs $300—adding up to $600 a week. But he's hopes Occupy Portland kicks down for more frequent pickups—the dumpsters fill up long before they're scheduled to be hauled away.
Will occupiers notice all that much? That's debatable. Volunteers have been helping cart away some of the camp's food refuse—one of the many ingredients in a very complex trash-sorting operation close to Third and Madison. And labor unions have already been paying for the camp's portable toilets.
Blackwood, for good measure, also said it would take months to clean the parks if and when Occupy Portland leaves them—"your guess is as good as mine"—and that the job would be too complicated for volunteers to help with. Why? Soil contaminated by generator fuel. And sharps left behind by addicts. Occupiers had offered their help in cleaning as a way to defray the city's costs, expected to be tens of thousands of dollars.
"Even when it comes time, because of the potential biohazards," Blackwood says, "it's gonna have to be done professionally."