PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - It’s a big frustration in northeast Portland: neighbors believe a small homeless camp is populated with way more bike than people.
“We saw roughly over 40 bikes,” said Benjamin Kerensa, of Montavilla Initiative. “It’s a bike chop-shop camp – they’re using these stolen bikes, they’re selling them.”
Keresna showed FOX 12 the camp near Northeast 82nd Avenue and Halsey Street on Wednesday.
“They’ve been taking the bikes out since police came,” Kerensa said, pointing to a tent. “But this was packed full of bikes.”
Kerensa said he came to check out the camp after getting a tip about it on social media.
Montavilla Initiative is a neighborhood coalition dedicated to safety and livability issues.
“We wanted to get down here as quickly as we could to take photos, so we can share with neighbors to see if their stuff is stolen,” Kerensa said.
Kerensa said he also compared bikes on Bike Index, a website database allowing people to register bikes, list them as stolen and search other stolen bikes.
Bingo – a match came back, and hours later, 9-year-old Caitlin Kelly was reunited with her bike after a Portland Police officer delivered it to her.
“I missed it a lot,” Caitlin said. “I started thinking I’m probably not going to get it back.”
Caitlin’s father, Chris Kelly, told FOX 12 his daughter’s bike was stolen more than a month ago after the flimsy cable lock connecting it to a friend’s front porch was cut.
Kelly said he called the shop where he purchased the bike to get the serial number, and an employee suggested he register the bike as stolen online.
“You just assume it’s not going to come back – that it’s over,” Kelly said.
“I’m extremely ecstatic – she’s been missing this bike since it was stolen,” Kelly added.
But the bike wasn’t returned to them the same. Kelly pointed out a flat back tire, broken chains and brakes and messed up handle bars.
“This one is going to be a project to rebuild, but obviously it has sentimental value,” Kelly said. “It’s a story, right? “It adds some value to it.”
And there could soon be some more happy bikes owners.
Back at the camp, Portland oolice on Wednesday night combed through the tents. FOX 12 saw them haul at least one other bike away.
One camper, who didn’t want to share his name, said he was frustrated by the searches.
“It ain’t nothing but harassment in uniform,” he said. “They (police) ran all the bikes – we got 12 bikes – one of 12 came back dirty.”
The homeless campers said they bought the bikes out on the streets.
“Ain’t nobody stealing them – we ain’t got no time to steal, we’re too busy trying to survive,” the camper added.
For the one bike returned, it’s a small victory for Montavilla Initiative, in an otherwise uphill battle where homeless constantly move between camps and those found with stolen bikes are rarely prosecuted.
But getting stolen property back to rightful owners is something Kerensa takes pride in.
“Neighbors are getting their stuff back. Before we were doing this, it wasn’t occurring because there’s just not the resources from the police to do proactive patrolling,” Kerensa said.
Portland Police encourage cyclists to register their bikes with Bike Index.
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