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Homeless Sweeps Spark Debate at City Council

December 24, 2019

homeless sweeps

After a delayed vote on a bold initiative to sweep homeless encampments last week, the mayor made comments Friday dismaying homeless advocates. The initiative is a $4.5 million a year, 5-year contract employing a private company to conduct homeless sweeps.

The company, Rapid Response, specializing in the handling and removal of hazardous waste, would be responsible for clearing the illegal homeless camps. Mayor Ted Wheeler tabled discussion on the proposal, originally scheduled for a vote last Wednesday.

Wheeler cites a full agenda. He rescheduled the vote for January.

The move inspired hope among some homeless advocates. It appeared for a moment as though City Council could change its mind. However, in an address to the public on Friday, Wheeler expressed little change in opinion. He stated, “I believe it is important that we continue to have a camp cleanup process.” He went on to state there have been improvements to the program. However, he cited none.

Homeless Sweeps Expand Scope

Wheeler said cleanups ballooned since the city started cleaning camps off ODOT land. Last year, crews cleaned 2,800 camps off Portland streets.

The city stores belongings of the homeless in a warehouse in Southeast Portland. There, city employees catalog and store them, by law. The warehouse opens on Saturdays and individuals no longer need appointments.

Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, calls for a six-month delay instead of the one month Wheeler has given. Sand calls out the cyclical nature of uprooting campers in homeless sweeps as ineffectual and traumatizing. “It’s as if we want to keep people in poverty and homelessness,” she said.

Sand wants six months to develop a more humane, effective solution than paying a biohazard firm to sweep the encampments off the streets.

Portland’s current contract with Pacific Patrol Company expired last month. At $650,000 annually, the contract cost considerably less than the proposed deal with Rapid Response.

There are no indications the vote will be further delayed, though Sand and other advocates will continue to pressure City Council.

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