Mixed responses to the Village Portland Article: “What does it look like after Rapid Response ‘cleans up’?”

By LESLEY MCLAM

This article is about what happened when an average Portland citizen, like myself, is curious about the efficacy of the programs being funded by the City to address those who are visibly unhoused.

In a recent article I simply reported what I saw— expressing my disgust and curiosity as to how the sweeps are conducted, and why so much garbage was left behind. 

Village Portland reports: What does it look like after Rapid Response ‘cleans up’?

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. 

Background

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 Response Bio 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. 

Portland Mercury reports: “Oversight Questions Arise as Portland Pays to Clean Up Homeless Campsites”

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.

Backlash

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.

The City of Portland and the houseless

The City of Portland recently released “A Response To Homelessness”, in their Summer 2019 quarterly newsletter.

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. 

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