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Questions from the Community: Why does the City engage in campsite removals?

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Get answers to your questions about Portland's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program.
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The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program takes short-term actions to improve health and safety for everybody involved – both for people experiencing homelessness and other community members who are affected by it. The two most powerful tools in our work are empathy and practical strategies that make a difference.

Our program is actively seeking to be more transparent and informative in our processes. We feel the community’s frustration and understand the community’s concerns on all sides of the issue. As a City run program it is ultimately our job to listen to the community and develop programming that works to meet the entire community’s needs.

With that in mind, there are some community members who want to see some campsites removed faster for very valid reasons and then there are other community members who would prefer we never remove a campsite – also for very valid reasons. We’ve seen a lot of anger about moving campsites on both sides of the issue.

It’s understandable that people have strong feelings because this is an important and extremely complicated topic. People should know that our program puts health and safety first. We take very seriously our responsibility to treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect, and to support them in complying with public health guidelines—especially during this time through the pandemic.

Part of our strategy is a two-tier intervention system. Central City Concern’s Clean Start program is our first responder to reports received. These are individuals with lived experience who are better equipped to engage with people living in any given campsite. They will offer resources and remove camper identified garbage to assist individuals in maintaining low-impact campsites. They also conduct a risk assessment of the campsite based on objective criteria to better identify whether any given site poses a threat to health or safety.

If a campsite has been determined to pose a significant public health or safety risk, then we follow a designated process for campsite removal (roughly 15% of all assessments go on to be posted for campsite removal). We are legally required to post a notice at least 48 hours in advance of clearing a campsite, and we do all we can to communicate with both the individuals living there and with service providers who might be working within that specific encampment. City crews will also conduct in person visits to remind individuals that the area will be cleared. 

On the day of the campsite removal, crews will often provide camp residents with extra time to pack up belongings before removing personal property. Any personal property that has been removed will be stored for 30 days in accordance with the City’s policy on property removal so that individuals can reclaim their property should they choose. Our property retrieval process can be found online.

Removing a campsite is a last resort. When we make the decision to remove a site it’s because we have tried every possible option to help the people living in that encampment, but we haven’t been able to resolve health and safety hazards. So for the well-being of everybody involved, sometimes we have to say, “This campsite has got to be moved.”

If a campsite must be removed, HUCIRP coordinates with outreach providers to provide service navigation opportunities for individuals who are impacted. We’re proud of all the people we’ve helped by assisting them in cleaning up their campsites, transitioning into shelter space, or accessing mental health and substance use treatment. Our crews and staff work tirelessly to serve our community. In December 2020 we removed just under 700,000 lbs. of garbage from areas throughout the community. We also assisted in providing hundreds of individuals access to shelter, services, and life-saving resources.

Please continue to report campsites to the City of Portland. The best way to report that information to us is by using any one of the links below (please just pick one, no need to use all three):

  1. Campsite Report Form: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/campsites.
  2. PDX Reporter: https://pdxreporter.org.-- and select “Campsite Reporting” from the main menu.
  3. Calling Information & Referral: 503-823-4000.

Submitting a report using any one of these methods will automatically create a work order and dispatch a crew with lived experience to assist and have eyes on the situation. We recommend submitting once a week as that will ensure that crews continue to visit the site to remove trash and other biohazardous materials in addition to providing the City with a current assessment of that location.