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On the night of Friday, September 27th, Village Portland was contacted by a concerned neighbor, named Moon Wise, who reached out to me about an assault of a houseless individual in St. Johns. (They chose to use their Facebook name for this story, fearing retribution from the alleged attacker.)
This account was also confirmed by another neighbor who witnessed the assault, posted about it on a St. Johns Facebook group, then immediately removed the posting.
On the night of Wednesday, September 25, a homeless neighbor was collecting cans as he usually did.
Near the crossroads of Fessenden Street and Mohawk Avenue, he said was assaulted by a housed resident who shot him dozens if not hundreds of times with paint balls at point-blank range. He was left with dozens of welts and bruises all over his body, and he also believes that his hand might be broken along with several ribs.
It wasn’t long before I found KGW’s report on the situation. Their brief report stated that a homeowner used a paintball gun to assault a houseless man. They also reported attack resulted in the houseless man being hospitalized.
However, their reporting left many questions about what happened unanswered. One glaring thing that Moon Wise wanted to be pointed out was that the alleged attacker isn’t a homeowner as KGW claimed he was.
In an exchange shared with Village Portland, a representative from the news station said the only on-record information they could get was from the police. They offered to “try to send someone out there” if someone would agree to talking on camera.
The neighbors declined the offer.
According to Wise, the assault was also far more brutal than KGW first reported. After reaching out to that neighbor it was divulged to Village Portland that the posting was removed from the FB group out of fear of retaliation from the assailant on the witness or their family.
With the help of St Johns advocates, the victim (who took an assumed name of Chris) spoke to us about the attack.
They said that night while looking for cans, he was locked in a dumpster by some neighborhood kids who also stole his backpack and bag of cans. He further explains when he was attacked and what led up to that.
Listen to the audio interview on KBOO Community Radio‘s 5 pm News, tonight (October 2nd).
“I did look in his car but I was looking to see if it was manual or automatic”. Chris explained in that interview that he did this because “my little brother has an engine for a Honda and he wants a car and I figured because it was on jack stands I figured they might want to sell it”.
He explains that the alleged attacker came out flashing a gun which he pocketed when a neighbor came out of their house. He then told a friend to grab his paintball gun while telling Chris the police were being called. Chris, feeling he didn’t do anything wrong, was willing to wait for the cops until a friend of the alleged attacker told him to shoot the houseless individual.
“When I started to run he was running with me shooting me and he wouldn’t stop” stated the victim, “So I ran up and knocked on a door but they weren’t home but he hit me a couple of times in the ribs and I couldn’t breathe so I fell down and he continued to shoot me even though I was begging him to stop.”
Chris also further states in that interview that the friend of the alleged attacker who told him to shoot him was someone Chis knew from the neighborhood and that he was afraid to press charges against Tomas because of that.
Photos of Chris’ injuries:
According to a witness, the incident began because the alleged shooter felt that Chris was either trying to mess with or possible steal his vehicle. It should also be noted that according to the witness, Moon Wise, and other neighbors the car possesses no working engine and is currently on jack stands. This was confirmed by an examination of the assailants’ recent social media postings.
Confirming Chris’ story, the neighbor said that after a chase the victim ended up screaming “please stop”, and was then cornered on one of the assailant’s neighbor’s front porches near the doorway. The assailant only stopped shooting when he ran out of ammo, they said, but then reloaded and continued to fire.
Eventually, the attack ended, an ambulance was called for him, and officers took statements but never arrested the assailant. “The biggest fear of [the houseless individuals] was that cops would steal his tent” according to the witness who also had to calm him down to be taken for medical treatment.
Chris said that at the hospital, his treatment was wound cleaning, even though he suspects he received a concussion and possibly broken or fractured bones.
Neighbors are terrified by the situation and how it concluded.
This was why Moon Wise reached out to Village Portland— to try and understand why there wasn’t an arrest for such a violent assault and to make sure this incident didn’t go unknown. Wise and other neighbors are fearful of having someone so violent living near them and are questioning why the assailant isn’t in jail for assault. Moon has even emailed Mayor Ted Wheeler‘s office about the incident inquiring why.
This inspired Village Portland to reach out to several advocates working in St. Johns to locate Chris. Before any of the advocates had found him four more neighbors on that block reached out to Village Portland as well and expressed their concern that such a dangerous individual was never arrested that night.
His neighbors said that the alleged attacker and owner of the vehicle has been seen periodically patrolling his block openly carrying a pistol even while children are present, and that he is often a source of multiple problems in the neighborhood.
Village Portland contacted the alleged attacker and owner of the vehicle in question, [the alleged shooter’s name was retracted when he said he didn’t consent to it being published] for comment on the incident through social media. He provided a cell phone recording of the security footage showing Chris near his car. Due to the poor quality of the footage, it is difficult to determine exactly what Chris was doing.
He insisted that it “clearly shows [Chris] searching my vehicle” but the recording also ends before the chase and alleged assault with the paintball gun began.
The Honda’s owner said he found a broken key in the door of the Honda but provided no proof. He also wrote, “I don’t know what his intentions were, just that it wasn’t searching for cans in my vehicle.”
When asked about the paintball assault, he only responded with, “he obviously knows he was guilty of something…” and didn’t answer any further questions.
Village Portland also contacted PPB’s North Precinct for information to this case. They confirmed the attack occurred, and also stated that the case has been referred to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. Angry neighbors are continuing to email officials asking for charges to be pressed.
Along with their attempts to bring the attacker to justice, there has been an outpouring of neighborly support for Chris. The neighbors provided Chris with cold-weather supplies, are trying to find him work, and have arranged followup medical care at Outside In, a resource for the homeless community.
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.
McLam has been reporting on Jason Barns Landing, a managed camp in North Portland that’s taking what I see as a civil disobedience approach to their camp. And their answering the question: what happens when homeless folk tire of being moved— tired of having their community scattered— keep coming back to the same place?
Both Elia and McLam are volunteers at community radio station KBOO, and use their equipment to publish a podcast called Tripp-p. Like KBOO, Open Signal, is a resource for community media creators that we’ve been collaborating with.
Another media non-profit that trains homeless youth in video storytelling we’re collaborating with, Outside the Frame, also uses Open Signal equipment.
Just across from Sauvie Island and nestled against both the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, lies historic St Johns. This area boasts a a commercial hub and many of the amenities of a small town. It also encompasses the St Johns and Cathedral Park neighborhoods.
In 1902, the expansion of the railroad into St Johns revitalized the area and brought a variety of manufacturing companies to take up residence along the river. It also brought jobs, people and ideas into what became the northwest tip of Portland— something which continues to this day.
Many remaining industrial-related warehouses are located along N. Columbia Blvd, past Pier Park and the Smith & Bybee Wetlands. The BNSF railroad tracks are what define the southern border of St Johns, separating it from the rest of North Portland.
Much has changed since the original St. John’s post office opened in 1875, except for the beauty of the river and the entrepreneurial spirit which still imbues the neighborhood, evidenced in the array of local businesses.
The St Johns Neighborhood Association is a hub for volunteering in the neighborhood. They have regular trash cleanups, work with Habitat for Humanities, and help maintain the area’s urban forest. Visit their page for more information.
Marrow PDX is “a youth-centered community space, with a focus on education, the arts, and activism.” Neighbors can book a show, host a exhibition, volunteer at current events, or submit ideas for new classes / programming.
It’s important for housed and houseless neighbors to know what to expect from the sweeps. Instead, I became disappointed by those who claim to support homeless rights and a City employee who seemed to be more interested in pressuring and misleading us over the article, rather than help us be better informed.
On July 8th, a Monday, I went up to the area in North Portland known as St Johns, to speak with the members of the transitional houseless camp called Jason Barns Landing.
Once I’d heard from multiple persons that Rapid ResponseBio Clean had been sighted, sweeping up an area further along the trail just south of Fessenden Avenue, I went down to the location that had been described to me.
I had been wondering what an area would look right like after Rapid Response came to clean it up.
After walking down the path and taking photographs of the city sign warning about the sweep and trash and belongings strewn about after Rapid Response finished, I wrote an article that was published in Village Portland.
The article was also posted to the Facebook Group “Portland Homeless,” managed by Jeff Woodward. It had been posted by Cory Elia, another local journalist and Village Portland reporter who has extensively covered homelessness in the area, then approved by Jeff. Within 48 hours Jeff had removed the post from the Group page and kicked the poster out of the social media group.
I later reached out to Jeff, asking why the post containing my article had been removed from the group.
His response was:
“Because it’s a smear piece on RR. also, it’s not news. It’s been going on like it is now for 10+ years.“
I found it interesting that Woodward doesn’t deny that trash is left behind after a sweep. He also seems to think that it’s not a problem because it’s been happening for so long. We disagree. He also erroneously assumed I’d asked someone else to post the article to the group I was a part of; Elia posted the article because he also thought the issue needed to come to light.
Woodward claims that he used to fight the sweeps five years ago, so I wonder why he would choose to censor an article questioning their efficacy? It was my understanding that this social media group was a place for free discussion regarding the group’s topic: homelessness.
Woodward removed me from the Facebook group within a week of the exchange with him. What purpose does it serve to disallow that article and remove members who promote on-topic discussion?
Besides reaching out to a moderator, there is no opportunity to appeal a decision to the rest of the group or to Facebook. It’s just part of the platform: people can be “disappeared” from a group for any reason, without a trace.
The response from Woodward was not the same as found in other online social media groups, where comments were generally supportive.
Page 4 mentions a Navigation Team which “takes a ‘services first’ approach to high-impact campsites. It works over an extended period of time to connect campers to shelter, services, housing, and health support before a camp is posted for cleaning and removal – rather than continuing the cycle of posting, cleaning, and having a camp return.”
Again, we wanted to ask the questions that any neighbor would have when signs are posted and belongings are left behind. To learn what many a houseless person has learned from lived experience. What we learned made us question how the sweeps are run and if the City follows its own rules.
Over the past decade or two, all across the United States, people’s lives are precariously balanced between past debts, future hopes, and their day-to-day struggles to get by.
For some, the day-to-day struggles have consumed much of their time and energy, putting them in a position of a lack, or worsening of, stability. This has become conspicuously true when it comes to housing.
However, in Portland’s neighborhood of St. Johns, a community of houseless individuals are hoping to help one another with the daily struggles, as well as find stability for themselves by creating a transitional camp.
In June, a small group of homeless advocates began moving forward with plans for a peer-organized and peer-led effort to create a stable transitional village. The transitional village would be a place for a its residents to sleep and for other unhoused persons to seek resources or peer-guidance.
Jason Barns Landing (JBL) is the name the group chose, in order to honor the memory of a beloved friend who was like family to them— and to strengthen the bond of the community.
Jason Barns was still a young man when he was hit and killed by a driver while can-collecting late at night. He recycled cans to support himself, after becoming unhoused and living on the streets. He was struggling with— and trying to overcome— an addiction enabled by street living.
Jason always dreamed of a safe and stable place where he could get his life back on track; he didn’t feel comfortable in shelters.
After all, how is one supposed to rebuild a sense of purpose and autonomy while always under the limitation of rules of living set by official services?
Jason built himself a family of friends who mourn him. A family of friends who decided to move forward with his dream of a safe place to sleep— without the fear of being swept up by the City.
To begin, members and advocates for the new village reached out to local groups and scouted areas.
JBL’s goal was simply to be heard and allowed to exist on an otherwise unused and tiny corner of Metro property beside the Columbia Boulevard entrance to the Peninsula Crossing Trail. The JBL Village is situated on Metro-owned property, not Portland Parks & Recreation property, despite the proximity to the trail. The trail is managed by PP&R according to an agreement between Metro and the PP&R.
On the third day of their new village— June 28th— JBL created a Facebook page, complete with photos of sturdy wooden platforms for half a dozen tents to be pitched upon.
There was a small kitchen area and a food pantry that was slowly getting stocked, as well as a more secluded corner for the bathing area. A spot to sleep, get showered and dressed, and then eat before heading out to be a part of society had become real for the members group.
Smiles beaming from photographs and hopeful posts on their Facebook page showed the neat progress the village was making— as well as how quickly the concerns of being removed by the City were beginning to shadow JBL residents’ hopes of stability.
One post read:
Posts from JBL during the first week were full of optimism, but also hinted toward the emerging battle with the City.
Several of the posts asked for donations of needed supplies and food. Others called for people to reach out to City Commissioner Nick Fish about the village’s portable toilets that were removed from the site on their second day.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and Village Portland reporter Lesley McLam and I had a good time catching up with old friends and learning more about what’s happening with the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
Learn more about the issue and how to get involved at this Village Portland @ St. Johns link promoting the event. There is definitely more work to be done cleaning up the river, and you can sign up for emails to stay in touch with the issue.
Hosted by Donovan Smith, there were a ton of great musicians there: Mat Randol, Swiggle Mandela, Talilo Marfil, Amenta Abioto, Jonny Cool, Corinthia Bethune, Westcoast Blackbear, Nikole Lashel, J Prodigy and a poem by an elder Wilma Alcock.
There was also this a group of rappers who call themselves The Avengers:
Portland Harbor Community Coalition:
Founded in 2012, we are a group of individual community groups elevating the most-impacted groups (Native Americans, African-Americans/Black, immigrants, and houseless) in the billion dollar federal cleanup of the eleven mile Willamette River Superfund site, Portland Harbor.
Keep in touch with updates on the Superfund project from the Environmental Protection Agency and read all the public comments here.