More than 100 tents and makeshift shelters line the streets of Portland’s Old Town , spreading fear among business owners that the customers will be scared away as they prepare to reopen on Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that nearly all of the state’s 36 counties would be allowed to reopen restaurants, bars, personal service businesses and malls on Friday.
While some business owners are thrilled to reopen stores after weeks of stay-at-home lockdown orders, photos show a mass of tents and shelters which have appeared during the pandemic, with sidewalks and entrances to shops blocked.
Residents and business owners say the homeless problem in the city has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which saw the city stop cleanup of camps and shelters.
And they say they’ve seen a spike in drug dealing, unprovoked assaults and aggressive behavior from homeless people connected to the tent city.
Helen Ying, chair of the Old Town Community Association, sent an email to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office titled ‘State of Old Town & Reaching Out for Help’ with photo attached of the disparaging scene.
More than 100 tents and makeshift shelters were spotted along the streets of the Old Town neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday
Eric Bowler and his wife, Karen Bowler, ran three bars in the Old Town neighborhood before they were temporarily closed one and shuttered two amid the outbreak, Oregon Live reports.
Eric said the once when they returned to one of their bars to check the mailbox, they found ‘somebody pooped into our mail slot’ and needles had been shoved inside as well.
He said: ‘It’s nuts down there. It’s always crazy, but with most businesses closed, the streets are overrun with open-air drug dealing.’
Photos from Old Town show one tent after another haphazardly placed along the sidewalk as homeless residents wander the neighborhood.
Local residents and business owners in Old Town report an influx in homeless residents camping outside on the streets during the pandemic
Residents have complained that homeless residents have publicly urinated and defecated in Old Town, as well as been aggressive and instigated unprovoked attacks
Oregon has recorded 3479 cases and 137 deaths, while the United States has a staggering count of 1,451,477 confirmed infections and 86,701 deaths
Scott Kerman, executive director of the Blanchet House, a nonprofit to help those in need, said he rarely had to call police before the pandemic hit this year. Now, those calls have become more frequent.
‘Everything was more or less pretty chill. That’s changed a lot under the current situation. We’re not seeing a lot of our regulars anymore,’ said Kerman. ‘We do have elements coming in here just looking to cause trouble.’
On Wednesday, a Blanchet House resident was cleaning up outside when a stranger reportedly approached them, punched them in the face and broke their nose.
‘It was totally unprovoked,’ Kerman said.
The Old Town Community Association wrote a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office titled ‘State of Old Town & Reaching Out for Help’ in regards to the sudden spike in homeless residents
Authorities have launched a ‘highly visible’ 30-day presence patrol in Old Town to fight unruly behavior from homeless residents and provide social service resources
Kerman: ‘The streets have essentially been left to the homeless – both to their disadvantage and that of residents/businesses in our community. No one is helped by the current situation’
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, Oregon has an estimated 15,876 residents who identify as homeless as of January 2019.
The number of calls to police in the Old Town neighborhood is down, but Central Precinct Cmdr. Mike Krantz said it’s possible that businesses were closed and less people were around to report possible crimes during the day.
In response to complaints, local authorities have launched a ‘high-visibility’ police patrol plan for Old Town and, starting this week, began a 30-day presence in the neighborhood. Officers will be dispatched on bikes, cars, and foot around the area.
In addition to dedicating eight officers and a sergeant to the area, members of the police department’s Behavioral Health Unit will also work to connect homeless residents with social services.
Pictured: a homeless resident sleeps in front of a restaurant in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, ahead of businesses reopening on Friday
DeMarco: ‘The concern I have moving forward is when we learn we can reopen, how do we graciously, politely ask those campers on our sidewalk to move somewhere else so we can clean the sidewalk for our visitors to come back?’
Jane DeMarco, interim executive director of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, told Oregon Live that she’s shocked by the influx of homeless residents who have camped out near the botanical garden.
Before the outbreak ‘where there might have been four or five tents, now there’s 18 around the garden,’ said DeMarco. ‘People seem quite angry and agitated.’
DeMarco has discussed plans to safely reopen the garden, but she’s unsure what will become of the homeless people who’ve made a home in front of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.
‘The concern I have moving forward is when we learn we can reopen, how do we graciously, politely ask those campers on our sidewalk to move somewhere else so we can clean the sidewalk for our visitors to come back?’ she said.
DeMarco is considering letting up to 35 visitors inside the garden at staggered time slots that can be arranged online.
Bowler: ‘It’s nuts down there. It’s always crazy, but with most businesses closed, the streets are overrun with open-air drug dealing’
Pictured: a homeless man props up a tent on a sidewalk in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland, Oregon
Local residents have called on city officials to launch a ‘long term solution’ to battle Portland’s homeless problem
Robert King, the mayor’s safety liason, told the Old Town Community Association that the homeless issue is ‘front and center’ with Mayor Wheeler.
‘Hopefully our presence will help deter crime, because of COVID, the city is not currently moving camps’ said King, a retired Portland police bureau lieutenant.
‘The conversations behind the scenes are happening to ensure the safety and health of everybody, including the people on the streets.’
Local resident Edward Moran, who left a homeless shelter that morning in search of another place to sleep, said he doesn’t mind the added police presence.
‘Everybody is out for themselves still,’ said Moran, adding that he’s seen people stealing from one another on the streets recently.
Oregon has recorded 3,479 coronavirus cases and 137 confirmed deaths. The United States has 1,451,477 confirmed infections and a soaring death toll of 86,701.