HILLSBORO, OR (KPTV) - Portland's homeless population appears to be spreading to the suburbs, and it has smaller cities in the metro area scrambling to keep up.
In Hillsboro, officers Jason Becker and Mike Abshier walk regularly through Dairy Creek Park to check on the people that now camp there, many of whom tell them they've relocated from Portland because of threats of theft and violence.
"Folks are just tired of being victimized," Becker said. "And so they'll jump on the nearest available MAX and they'll ride out here, which is where it ends."
Becker and Abshier exercise a strategy that uses enforcement as the last option, preferring to forge relationships with people.
In a recent effort to tidy up the park, the officers handed out gift cards to restaurants to anyone willing to clean up their mess.
"We've been able to identify the folks that are willing to kind of rise up above where they're at and assist us. It's helped us establish, for lack of a better phrase, some allies that are actually out here," Becker said.
According to public data, Washington County's homeless population grew to 530 people in 2019, up from 115 the year before.
Although the Hillsboro officers do their best not to punish campers with jail time, they have removed people with outstanding warrants, and periodically post camps for cleanup.
"There's an endpoint where it doesn't matter what you're doing, we're still going to move you out, because we have an obligation to make sure that this is a safe place and that this park is clean," Abshier said.
The City of Hillsboro partners with the Metro RID Program to clean up the park. Officers typically give campers 24-hours' notice and encourage campers to re-locate their belonging before the cleanup.
Once the area is clean, campers quickly return.
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