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Fund helps pay for Delta cleanup

$60,000 will help pay for outreach services to homeless campers


by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Transients amass piles of stuff at a campsite deputies found in Thousand Acres last fall.A $60,000 contingency fund has been established in this year’s Multnomah County budget to offset the cost of cleaning up the Sandy River Delta and pay for outreach services to the homeless people who illegally take up camp there.

“The Sandy River Delta is an important recreational area that we must commit to keeping clean, safe and open to everyone,” said County Commissioner Diane McKeel in an emailed statement to The Outlook.

McKeel is the commissioner who proposed the contingency fund. And the full commission approved the budget on Thursday, May 29.

In recent months, Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies and Friends of the Sandy River Delta have raised concern at Corbett Northeast Multnomah County Community Association meetings that transients are still living in camps and piling trash in Troutdale’s Sandy River Delta and Thousand Acres park, an issue authorities don’t expect to solve in one day.

The county will allocate the $60,000 to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for more major cleanup efforts and for homeless outreach services to help the homeless connect with housing and mental health services.

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - During the Sheriffs sweep of Thousand Acres last October, Anthony, who has no permanent home, helped a friend clean out a campsite.Eric Zimmerman, chief of staff at County Commissioner McKeel’s office, said hearing reports at NEMCCA meetings for the last several months spurred the county to respond.

“Folks who are homeless in our urban areas have access to a whole slew of services that folks in more rural areas really don’t have,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said this is a tougher population than urban homeless, and in order to prevent their cycle of return, they need access to social services.

Transients have found the woods at the Sandy River Delta an appealing spot to live, bringing with them hordes of belongings to make living outside more comfortable.

“They are living in filth,” said Barb Adams, lead member of the volunteer group, Friends of the Sandy River Delta.

Adams says many of recreational users on the delta and at Thousand Acres — equestrians, dog walkers and runners — have complained they don’t feel safe on the trails where transients have spread out camps.

Adams reiterates it is illegal to camp on U.S. Forest Service land, and particularly in parks.

Police also have reported problems of drug and alcohol abuse in the camps.

“We are not doing them any favors by letting them live here,” Adams said.

Within the last year, authorities and local volunteers have bolstered efforts to clear out the camps and remove the thousands of pounds of debris the homeless leave behind when they are asked to leave.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office last conducted a massive “sweep” of the parks in October 2013, when more than 30 campsites, 50 to 75 homeless people and 10,000 pounds of debris were removed.

Outreach workers from the Department of Human Services and JOIN, a Portland homeless advocacy group, met with the homeless people as they walked out of the park.

In December 2013, The Outlook reported that sheriff’s deputies who periodically make rounds in the park were still finding camps they either missed before or had been newly established.

Since the sweep, Friends of the Sandy River Delta have been picking up trash left behind by transients at Thousand Acres on the north side of Interstate 84 near the Sandy River.

Assisted by members of Corbett’s Citizen Patrol, volunteers have trekked into the park to haul out furniture and debris from abandoned camp sites. On one occasion they filled a 20-yard Dumpster with trash.

Adams said she was excited to learn the county was stepping in to help.

“We are delighted to see the money,” she said.

Zimmerman said the intention of the funds is to assist the work sheriff’s deputies and volunteers are already doing at the park.

The county commission is working with the sheriff’s office to determine the extent of cleanup needed, whether it be one, two or three more major sweeps.

Sheriff’s Capt. Monte Reiser said he also is very pleased to have agencies tackling the problem together.

He said the homeless camping at Thousand Acres “is one of those unfunded issues we have to absorb in costs when it comes to developing an operation out there.”

Lt. Steve Alexander, spokesman for the sheriff, said a plan for the use of funds has yet to be determined.

“Anything that connects transients with services and outreach is a good thing,” Alexander said. “Restoring the vicinity and providing an improved environment for daily visitors to the Sandy River Delta and Thousand Acres is good as well.”

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