‘Not safe anymore’: Portland confronts the limits of its support for homeless services  

LA Times

Michelle Farris never expected to become homeless, but here she was, sifting through garbage and towering piles of debris accumulated along a roadway on the outskirts of northeast Portland. Farris, 51, has spent much of her adult life in Oregon and has vivid memories of this area alongside the lumbering Columbia River when it was pristine, a place for quiet walks. Now for miles in both directions, the roadside was lined with worn RVs and rusted boats doubling as shelter. And spilling out from those RVs, the trash and castoffs from this makeshift neighborhood also stretched for miles, making for a chaos that unnerved her. Broken chairs, busted-up car parts, empty booze bottles, soiled blankets, discarded clothes, crumpled tarps. Every so often, it was more than she could bear, and she attacked the clutter around her own RV, trying furiously to organize the detritus into piles. “Look at all this garbage out here — it used to be beautiful nature, but now it’s all polluted,” she said, as the stench of urine and burned rubber hung in the damp air. “The deer and river otters and beavers have to live with all this garbage.” She paused a moment, glancing in the distance at a snow-capped Mt. St. Helens. A line of RVs dotted the horizon. Portland’s homelessness problem now extends well beyond the downtown core, creating a crisis of conscience for this fiercely liberal city that for years has been among America’s most generous in investing in homeless support services. Tents and tarps increasingly crowd the sidewalks and parks of Portland’s leafy suburban neighborhoods. And the sewage and trash from unsanctioned RV encampments pollute the watersheds of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

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