Fed up with being ignored, some Lents neighbors back activist moving Springwater campers to Eastmoreland

If you’re tuned in enough to find this story, you’ve probably already heard: an activist is planning on moving homeless people living on the Springwater Corridor to Eastmoreland— the neighborhood where the mayor of Portland and the Multnomah County Chair live— rather than have them moved along without sufficient shelter or facilities.

But what you may have not heard is that several Lents neighborhood activists support the move. They say it’s not fair that lower-income East Portland bears a disproportionate amount of burden accommodating the homeless— and affluent neighborhoods like Eastmoreland should take their share. Requests for help in East Portland have been ignored, they say, and they haven’t been included in decisions on placing homelessness services.

On July 16, the day after Mayor Charlie Hales announced the Springwater Corridor would be cleared of campers, activist Jesse Sponberg posted a Facebook event called Exodus. He wrote that it is being organized to minimize injuries and arrests during the sweep and pressure the City into real solutions:

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Robert Schultz, Lents neighbor and co-founder of Lents Active Watch, was one of the first to comment, offering his support and inquiring about logistics. It’s an uneasy alliance, acknowledged by Sponberg when he responded that while he and Schultz don’t agree on everything he’s happy the 20-year Lents resident is willing to work for the greater good. Since the plan was announced, Shultz has continued to defend the plan— upsetting Eastmoreland neighbors.

Jennifer Young, also a Lents resident associated with LAW, added that people / activists have bought into the idea that Lent’s residents are just NIMBYs (not in my back yard), but the “real enemy” is the government officials whose inaction has fueled conflict between neighbors and campers.

Her comment on the move:

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People are stepping up to support the move: offering rides to the location, and a kitchen for the new camp. The five-year anniversary of Occupy Portland is Oct. 11th, and this movement is already its spiritual successor, no matter what happens. Sponberg commented that it’s going to take the entire city to pull this off.

Sponberg said shelters are nasty places, and he advocates for more places like Hazelnut Grove, where homeless folk can have space to build tiny houses and organize themselves.

The Exodus isn’t the only response to the sweeps, which have already happened in some places. Springwater Corridor campers are leaving on their own, and neighborhood activists say they are relocating other places in the Lents area. Officials are stepping up outreach, and some homeless activists are advising campers to “stand their ground“, and they’re pledging to stand with them. It’s a tense situation, and there has been more violence than usual lately. Another group called Boots on the Ground PDX is establishing another camp on public land. The location won’t be announced until July 31st, setting up another conflict with nearby neighbors who aren’t bought in on the plan.

I first heard about LAW through OPB’s Think Out Loud. A reporter accompanied the groups’ founders on one of their regular trails walks. The program (which is definitely worth a listen) didn’t offer any easy answers, but it showed that Schultz and the other co-founder were listening.

LAW isn’t an official group, Schultz emphasized that the group has taken no official position on the Exodus. Some support it, some do not. LAW includes “radicals on both sides and the more even tempered that want to see solutions”, he wrote me.  Schultz said LAW has helped people into housing, done clean ups, and provided food for the campers he said he sees as neighbors.

Schultz said when the group started they were called vigilantes, but they haven’t received a single complaint. The criticism goes both ways, however. Both Schultz and Young don’t appreciate the what some activists are bringing to the conflict in Lents.

“Advocates drive into Lents and tell everyone this and that then go home and hiking on the weekends while we live with the impact of that division…” Schultz wrote. “Very frustrating to face division from outside our community.”

I spent two-and-a-half hours on the phone with Jennifer Young Friday afternoon, and not a minute of that felt wasted. I was shocked by her stories of inaction by the police and local government in Lents, as they work to clean up crime, drug dealing, and prostitution. This site was started for neighborhood-level journalism, and I’m starting with Montavilla, but this issue shows that all of East Portland doesn’t get its fair share of services or voice in the media.

Young said she heard late last year that there’s a plan to push the homeless to East Portland, and she’s seeing the results now. The lack of police and government response reminds her of when she worked in North Portland’s Albina neighborhood in the ’90s— before the neighborhood entirely transformed by gentrification.

Young isn’t new to this issue. She has worked in mental health for 20 years, specializing in the chronically mentally ill and homelessness. She works full-time in mental health and regularly volunteers her time in the neighborhood. When asked point-blank, she said she does believe services are available for families, veterans, and the mentally ill. Human Solutions Family Center (160th & Stark, 503-256-2280), is a family-only shelter that doesn’t turn anyone away.

She’s also critical of what she calls the “poverty pimps” who have a vested interest— some as a career, some as an identity— in homelessness, and the local media who doesn’t dig deep enough. Homeless people have to want help, and she said it bothers her that vulnerable people are enabled in an unhealthy lifestyle.

Several Lents neighbors say that when they call the police, they often simply don’t come. Young said the lack of response is even worse when you mention the problem involves homeless people. We also discussed the fact that the City of Portland stopped crime information online and CrimeReports.com, the site that used to publish 9-1-1 calls, no longer does. This makes it difficult for people to track what’s happening, keeping all the day-to-day crime and problems blacked out.

It’s a complicated, emotional issue, and as a writer, antagonism is so easy to set up with this issue. But what struck me about this alliance is that it crosses some entrenched battle lines, while spotlighting a point that Schultz and Young consistently make: Lents residents deserve equal application of the law and an equal distribution of homeless resources.

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The parkway on SE Reed College Place where the new homeless camp is planned.

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The It’s hard to tell from the image below, but SE Reed College Place is a parkway between SE Woodstock Blvd. and Crystal Springs Blvd.

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