PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – The city of Portland’s and Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services is teaming up with nonprofits to try a new strategy to get homeless campers off the street and help stop the cycle of repeatedly clearing and cleaning the same camps.
Outreach workers now spend weeks at a time focusing on one camp: getting to know homeless individuals where they’re at and bringing services to them.
The program is part of the “Navigation Team” that launched in January.
One of the most visible aspects of the work is the sanitation and hygiene unit comprised of two portable toilets, hand-washing stations, a garbage can, sharp box and lockers. The mobile station moves from camp to camp in the areas with the largest populations.
Where Southeast Flavel Street meets Interstate 205 has been a consistent problem for years. The sanitation trailer was moved to the underpass about two weeks ago.
Tracy Vargas told FOX 12 she’s been camping in southeast Portland for more than three years.
Trying to find a spot to go to the bathroom is just one of many challenges.
“You’ve got to find a business around the area that will let you come in and go,” Vargas said Tuesday. “A lot of times you get left to going out in the woods or wherever you can go.”
Vargas said she appreciates that now there’s a bathroom to use that’s just a short walk away. She’s also working with the outreach team to get her birth certificate.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Vargas said. “I think it’s been working.”
Areas neighbors said they’ve noticed the bathrooms and lockers.
Pat Perkins has been walking her dog along Flavel Street for 14 years. She said the influx of homeless, garbage and human waste has been particularly bad the last five years.
“It seems like it could be a health hazard, especially when you see needles and feces on the ground,” Perkins said.
Perkins said she’s happy to see the homeless now have a designated place to throw trash, hazardous materials and use the bathroom.
And local leaders are hopeful the access will help reduce the impact.
“These are campsites that for a very long time have been generating concerns and safety issues,” said Denis Theriault, a spokesman for the Joint Office for Homeless Services.
“Not just public safety issues but health and safety issues for the folks who are camping there as well as the folks who are near those sites,” Theriault added.
But offering sanitation services is just a small part of the mission driven by hope for a more permanent solution.
“We’re going to get them their ID, we’re going to get them a birth certificate, we’re going to get them medical connections,” Theriault said.
The ultimate goal is to get the homeless off the streets and in shelter or housing.
A city spokeswoman said 15 people from the Flavel camp have already been placed in shelters, including two families.
It’s unclear where the Navigation Team will go next.
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