Homeless using Portland State University campus as shelter, some students say

Portland State University. (Image: KPTV)

PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Some students at Portland State University say homeless people are using the campus as a shelter, sleeping in spaces meant for students to study. And, according to them, campus security needs to do more to keep students and staff members safe.

In an email recently sent to the FOX 12 investigators, a viewer writes, “It has become obvious that area homeless people using the Portland State University Student Union as a weather shelter and as a place to sleep, even going so far as to pretend to be PSU student(s).”

According to PSU officials, 12 people have received warnings for trespassing on campus so far this year. They also say two repeat offenders have been ticketed in 2019 and campus police have arrested two more repeat trespassing offenders.

The campus, which is situated in downtown Portland, is easily accessible to the public. However, after school hours, badges are required to enter the buildings.

But, according to PSU student Ulises Zavaleta, during the day, “there’s a lot of homeless people walking through Cramer Hall or Lincoln Hall, kind of picking through the garbage and through the recycling.”

Zavaleta says he sympathizes with them and believes most are only trying to make money to get by.

“They’re having a rough time, trying to get what they can, and no one seems to stop them,” he says.

On Tuesday, FOX 12 investigators looked into the matter. Moments after entering the Smith Memorial Union Building, we found a man rummaging through a trash bin in the hallway. When asked if he was a student or staff member, he said, “no” and immediately left the building.

Still, not everyone is concerned with outsiders on campus.

“We’ve rarely had a situation where a homeless person has been combative or disrespectful,” says Linneas Boland-Godbey, a PSU graduate student.

Boland-Godbey, who is working toward obtaining his master’s degree in social studies, says the University should do more to meet the needs of the homeless.

“There’s a lot of rooms that are not being used on a daily basis on this campus that I feel like could be really good rest areas for the homeless population,” Boland-Godbey said.

However, in a letter sent to FOX 12, a viewer writes, “Portland may be a bastion of progressive tolerance, but there are clear hygiene, health, and safety concerns with this sort of vagrant trespassing.”

PSU officials say they are aware of these safety concerns and are working to resolve them.

According to PSU spokesperson Kenny Ma, the university hired Margolis Healy, an independent consultant, to oversee a campus safety assessment. He says PSU also recently established its Homeless Research & Action Collaborative, a research center “dedicated to addressing the issue of homelessness in Portland and beyond.”

Ma tells FOX 12, the findings of the agency’s independent report will be made public by next week, at the latest. And, he says, when it comes to addressing these safety concerns, school officials are considering all options, including making its buildings solely accessible by student badges, at all times.

Smith Memorial is open until 10 p.m. during the week with access to anyone. No badges are needed during the times the building is open. 

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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