SE Portland homeowners clash over helping homeless

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 6:56 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Some neighbors in Southeast Portland are at odds over one man’s attempt to help those experiencing homelessness in and around his property.

Just south of SE 157th Avenue and Stark Street some neighbors say their street is becoming unlivable because of the activities of one homeowner.

The homeowner, Herbert Smiley, admits he is supplying power via extension cords and propane to some of the people living in RVs on the street. Smiley says a friend connected him with some of these people months ago who had no other options as winter weather picked up.

“It was bitter bitter cold and they’d run out of propane the night before,” said Smiley of one woman he is currently helping. “I had the room and I couldn’t imagine her in that condition.”

But the RVs, extension cords, and propane tanks are an unsettling sight for homeowner Damien Bunting who has lived on the street across from Smiley for a little over a year. Bunting says he has tried contacting local authorities about his concerns, but the situation has not improved.

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“The entire year that I’ve lived in this house, I have not had one day of absolute peace,” said Bunting. “I’m so concerned with the power lines, with the propane, with the situation that’s going on out here, that there’s going to be an explosion.”

A spokesperson for Portland Fire and Rescue says the department has not been alerted to any fire-risk issues with people camping in RVs in this neighborhood, or have responded to any fire emergencies.

Beyond the concern for fire, Bunting feels the people living off Smiley’s home are not getting the help they need. Bunting says he has seen evidence of drug use up and down the street, and is also concerned about a young child he has witnessed going in and out of one of the RVs. Bunting says he understands where his neighbor is coming from, but this has gone too far.

“People think that they’re being compassionate by offering space, or power, or an opportunity to live like this to people, that they’re somehow helping, but they’re not,” said Bunting.

Smiley says he is working as hard as he can to help those taking refuge in and around his house get back on their feet and find stable housing. However, he acknowledges how some may find this controversial.

“It comes with all this, and so I just try navigate it as humanely as possible,” said Smiley. “And it is a struggle, I’ll tell you that.”