Homelessness: A symptom of underlying problems
Tucked away behind a cluster of trees along Interstate 84 near Troutdale is another world the average local citizen or traveler likely never sees or thinks about.
Punctuated only by a faint rumble from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, many folks with no address of their own make their home within the forest.
The issue of homelessness is often discussed. But its only been the past year or so that the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office had funding to seriously address growing problem, forming a special outreach team dedicated to providing services and cleaning up garbage that transients leave behind.
This topic has quite a history, said MCSO Capt. Monte Riser. It dates back several years, but sort of came to focus in 2013 when we just had so many camps out in the Sandy River Delta. The feedback we were getting from the community was that we needed to develop more of a comprehensive response and a collaborative response.
Riser took the $38,000 allocated by the Board of Commissioners and created a six-person outreach team, headed by Sgt. Sean Mallory. The team goes out every couple of weeks to walk through the camps, post notices at campsites and offer services. So far, its been working.
What we found was there was kind of a mix of both homeless subjects and people that were just unlawfully camping or going to those camps and causing a lot of public safety concerns, Riser said.
There were multiple reports of assault and sexual assaults, with as many as 25 camps at a time each with as many as a dozen occupants.
Many of the homeless have personal problems, and thats why they have become homeless, said sheriffs office Deputy Joe Graziano, who serves as Corbett community resources officer. During our contacts we tend to see addiction and mental health issues or just an inability to function in mainstream society. Their homelessness then becomes a secondary problem, while their personal issues remain their primary problem. Until those primary problems get fixed, theyll likely remain homeless.
Despite successful contacts, the team finds many transients dont want the services the county offers.
If we make contact with them, well ask how long theyve been out there for, Mallory said. We have a Street Roots (homeless advocacy group) book we hand out, and then we get whatever name theyre going to give us. If theyve tried to apply for services before, we see if they were successful or not successful, are they receiving any additional assistance from the state or any kind of income. Theres this litany of questions we ask them. Most are forthcoming at that point.
After an exchange of information, photos to document the camp and camper, the outreach team moves on.
At the end of the day well put together a report and well forward it to our partners in JOIN, Mallory noted.
Their intent is never to harass, but to provide assistance and cleanup.
JOIN, a homeless-services organization in Portland, then goes out in the next few days to offer further services and try to connect people with homes.
I think based on the success, we would want to continue making consistent patrols, Riser said.
With funding for the next year not allocated, its unknown how often the outreach team will be able to patrol.
Being unfunded, that would ruin out ability to do anything close to our current capacity, he said. It would just mean doing what we can with available resources based upon the current budget. Its not to say we would never go out here, but it would just be on a monthly or quarterly assessment, and that would be a much smaller scale as well.
For Graziano, the outreach is important, but with so many refusing help, his focus is on the detritus left behind when campers move on.
For me personally, the biggest issue is garbage, he said. Theres leadership in the camps. (We) try to have them watch out for themselves and clean up within their own camps.
Local groups have joined in the effort as well to keep the recreational areas clean. The situation has vastly improved, but remains a concern.
Campers are out there and should not be, but thats kind of why we want to continue to have consistent outreach efforts, Riser said. We dont want to be about enforcing the unlawful camping laws, we want to be about outreach and connecting people to services if thats something we can do.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT