As homeless camp grows on Portland trail, neighbors frustrated by lack of city response | KATU

Eight months after Portland changed its protocols for removing homeless encampments, one of the city's largest camps is still growing. Neighbors who live near the Peninsula Crossing Trail tell KATU they feel trapped and threatened in their own homes. Deirdre Jennings says she can't sleep at night because of what's happening behind her home.

"The other night, I had a guy standing behind my fence screaming that he's gonna murder people," said Jennings. "How do you react to that? And we called 911, but nothing came of it."

Along with the screaming, Jennings says she deals with screeching tires night and day. While we were interviewing her, a car raced down the street in front of her home. When we walked out back, we saw a station wagon peeling out in the mud, revving its engine, and speeding around tents and down the path. Jennings and her husband have tried to keep cars out with rocks and plastic fencing, but it's not working.

"This is not safe. People can't ride bikes down the trail," said Jennings. "There's no way anyone would enter that area anymore."

Gunshots are another danger. Jennings and her neighbors tell us it happens so often they've stopped calling 911.

"'Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.' Right back here," said Jennings. "My neighbor said she that their house was gonna get hit. I mean, that's how close it was. It was right by the Belmont Goats."

Portland's famous Belmont Goats live right along the trail. Cindy Stockton is one of ten volunteers who take care of the goats and the property.

"We feed them, give them clean water, walk the perimeter to make sure there's no garbage or anything that will harm them," said Stockton.

Stockton is worried about the animals. There've been several fires nearby, putting their pasture and structures at risk. She says she regularly finds trash, food, and feces near the fence where the goats graze.

"My heart goes out to people. I think our system is broken," said Stockton. "These people are not choosing to live like this. Ultimately nobody wakes up and goes, 'I think I'll be homeless and have to defecate on the street."

87-year-old Donna asked us not to show her face. She lives in Minerva Plaza, an affordable housing community just feet away from the outskirts of the camp. Donna says she hardly ever leaves; too scared to go outside.

"They're right out there sleeping right out behind me. We could hear, sometimes, gunshots, guns going off," said Donna.

Relay Resources, which manages the HUD Section 8 property, sent us an "Impact Report" detailing problems connected to the camp, including contractors refusing to come to the site to do repairs because they feel unsafe and residents reporting intimidation, harassment, and threats, with guns pointed at them when they report crimes. The report listed "extensive and ongoing" damage to the property, including graffiti, excess garbage, open sewage, and water theft. Relay Resources is now considering taking steps to eliminate outdoor water faucets after locks were broken.

There is no question the city considers the camp along the Peninsula Crossing Trail "high risk." Last May, the Office of Management and Finance used it as one of three examples of why Portland needed to remove more encampments after pausing during the pandemic.

All four city commissioners and the mayor signed off on the new protocols, and the city started sweeping more camps, but the camp along the southern end of the Peninsula Crossing Trail is still growing eight months later. We reached out to the city to get some answers. The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program sent us this statement:

This site met our criteria for posting quite some time ago, however, there are a number of factors that are impacting the timeline of when this campsite removal may happen. There are a high number of people living in this stretch, so we need to allot the appropriate amount of resources in regards to outreach and service referrals. We also need to work with the property owners – Portland Parks and Recreation, and PBOT. Anything have to do with vehicles or restricting vehicular access (for emergency maintenance vehicles) needs to be approved by them – so I can't address your last two inquiries. I would recommend reaching out to their PIO – Dylan Rivera. Lastly, we believe there are a number of community stakeholders that have been vocal about their opposition to those camps being removed. We want to take the time to ensure we are working with everyone involved in this site to help ensure a safe process for everyone.

A statement, but again, refusing an interview we've repeatedly asked for since last summer. When KATU pushed for specifics and asked who those stakeholders are, a spokesperson told us, “We’ve just heard that there could be opposition." When we asked how the city was working with everyone involved, the response was, "we haven't even started making a plan on how to proceed."

Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal did agree to talk with us. The camp is in her district. She couldn't say much about how the city's managed it, but she told us she knows people are frustrated by what they're seeing.

"I drive the same streets. I walk the same streets that everybody else does. And I understand that it doesn't look as if we're making progress."

Jayapal says she met with residents in North Portland in December to talk about the camp, and they came up with some solutions that she shared with city leaders. Jayapal told us she's hopeful and touted a progress report Multnomah County released last week. It showed more than 1,200 people were moved into housing since July of 2021, thanks to the Supportive Housing Services measure approved by voters. And Jayapal says more programs and opportunities are in the pipeline as that money starts to pour in.

But how long will it take to get to University Park in North Portland? Deirdre Jennings says she's losing patience.

"It's like you're living in a lawless territory," said Jennings.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, she's thinking about moving.

"There are no rich families in this neighborhood. And as our property taxes go up, we look around, and we're like, 'What are we paying for? Where are tax dollars going?"