The city says it's time for Forgotten Realms to go.
For nearly a year, the organized homeless camp has sat on a city-owned lot at North Kerby and Graham. But in light of a fire that engulfed a small structure and damaged an adjacent home on Monday, city officials are planning to move residents elsewhere, according to Mayor Charlie Hales' office.
"I think, because of the public safety concerns after the fire, that that property will not be allowed to be camped on anymore," says Brian Worley, a spokesperson for Hales. "There are liability issues of unsanctioned camps being set up."
He draws a parallel between concerns at Forgotten Realms and camps along the Springwater Corridor, the Southeast Portland multi-use trail that saw a massive coordinated sweep earlier this year not long after a fire broke out.
Worley said Hales made the call Forgotten Realms couldn't continue. He didn't offer any hard timelines for when the city's campsite cleanup workers might move in, saying only "it will probably be soon" (it likely won't take place during the winter storm Portland's bracing for). Officials have so far focused on trying to connect residents of the camp to shelters, Worley said.
The city hasn't posted formal cleanup notice at the site, which is required before residents are swept, but local pastor and homeless advocate Steve Kimes, who helped establish the camp, says he's heard officially that posting will be up by December 15.
If the city follows through, it's something of a blow to the growing push for creating small, organized homeless communities around the city. Forgotten Realms sprung up in January, when a group of people who'd been living near the Hazelnut Grove site made a surprise move to the city owned plot nearby.
Hales—who the following month would unveil a radical "safe sleep policy"—first suggested he'd clear the camp, then let it stay. At one point, there was even talk of Forgotten Realms receiving a formal permit to use the land. That eventually fell through.
Kimes has begun an online crowdfunding campaign for campers displaced by the fire. According to a narrative on that website: "City government had banned them from spending another night in Forgotten Realms, which they helped form and lead."
Without those four people, Kimes tells the Mercury the camp is not able to organize a resistance to being swept.
"At this point even though there's still a couple leaders left, I don’t think there's enough leadership to make it work," he says.
At the same time it plans to dismantle Forgotten Realms, the city's working toward creating more formal "villages" for homeless people, as we report in this week's issue.
"That's the model we want to move forward," Worley says.
That's not much comfort to existing Forgotten Realms residents. Aaron Martin, 45, describes himself as the head of security at the camp. He believes Portland Fire & Rescue took too long to respond when the fire broke out Monday morning.
"It took the fire department 20 minutes to get here," Martin tells the Mercury. "When we have campfires, they’re here in five minutes."
He says a faulty stove was to blame for the fire, and that that shouldn't be enough for him to be kicked off the site.
"This place has become our home," Martin says. "We’re not bad people. We’re trying to survive like everyone else."