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No concerns for Gresham over sweeps

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Homeless numbers in Gresham hold steady after Springwater Trail cleanup -


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Homeless campers on the move Sept. 1 on the Springwater Corridor Trail in Southeast Portland. When the Springwater Corridor Trail cleanup began on Sept. 1, the city of Gresham wasn’t sure what to expect.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, prompted by concerns surrounding the natural areas and safety issues for users of the 21-mile trail that links Portland and Gresham, was forced to take action. His solution was to prevent camping along the trail, displacing an estimated 500 homeless individuals.

“It is refreshing to see Portland finally taking action to regain control of their portion of this regional asset,” Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis told The Outlook when the cleanup was first announced. “We reached the conclusion months ago that the safety and livability degradation on the trail was too severe, and took decisive action to protect Gresham’s trail alignment.”

Forced from the trail, it was unknown where the homeless individuals would go. One month later, Gresham officials say there has yet to be any noticeable statistical rise in the number of homeless within the city. The displaced homeless seem to have relocated to different parts of Multnomah County.

“There hasn’t been an increase in crime or complaints,” said Elizabeth Coffey, Gresham communications manager, “so we are using the same mixture of service and enforcement that we had been doing before the cleanup.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Craig A., a homeless veteran, says he doesnt want to move into a shelter because it is just as dangerous as staying on the streets or in a homeless camp. He is one of hundreds of homeless campers now on the move as the city of Portland cleans up the Springwater Corridor Trail.Lessons from the past

Gresham was forced to engage in its own cleanup effort along the Springwater trail earlier this year. All public access was blocked to the 60-acre nature park containing the Gresham Woods and Johnson Creek, because of environmental and safety concerns over the camping, mostly by the homeless, in the area. Through that process the city was able to develop and put in place strategies that may have helped them prevent an influx of individuals coming into the city from the Portland section of the trail.

“We have been coordinating with Portland law enforcement, and we didn’t know what to expect when the sweeps first occurred,” Coffey said. “But we were never that concerned because we have a lot of tools in place.”

The Gresham Police Department did not assist the Portland cleanup, and it has maintained normal enforcement practices along the Springwater. Bike officers patrol both the trail and downtown, officers on utility vehicles keep watch and park rangers ensure all users follow the rules.

Gresham police also utilizes their Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which serves as an outlet for the community to solve problems before they require police action.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham has not yet seen a large impact from Portlands cleanup of the Springwater Corridor Trail. Here, homeless and low income individuals gather outside St. Henry Catholic Church in downtown Gresham as they wait for lunch.   6. Gresham conducted an extensive cleanup of its own along the Springwater Corridor Trail back in February, when the 60-acre Gresham Woods site was cleared.   7. City of Gresham Homeless Services Specialist Newton Gborway started work earlier this year and specializes in placing homeless individuals into the services they need. Guidelines for campers

No camping of any kind is allowed along Gresham’s portion of the trail, with an increased focus against high-impact, long-term encampments. However, because of a lack of services within the city, low-impact camps are oftentimes left alone if they follow a set of guidelines. These include making sure the camps have small numbers of occupants, are respectful of the surrounding area, don’t feature permanent structures and keep the surrounding area clean.

“Local campers are always respectful and adhere to our requests when they’re asked to vacate the property for cleanup,” said Dan Estes, a Gresham officer on the Neighborhood Enforcement Team. “We want to continue this relationship, because the way we are currently doing things is working for both sides.”

The police say there has been an increase in the homeless individuals coming into Gresham and setting up camp along the trail, but spokesperson Adam Baker said the Neighborhood Enforcement Team has been working to inform them of Gresham’s rules along the trail.

“We enforce laws such as trespassing, drinking in public, urination in public, littering — all of those associated things when they pop up,” Baker said. “Once we tell them we enforce those things they tend to turn around, head west and set up camp across the line in Portland again.”

That increase in individuals may not even be related to the Springwater cleanup, as before the process had begun Gresham officials noted a steady increase of homeless moving into the area. Without a ready supply of services at this time, the city is not the most appealing place for the homeless to pick.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Human Solutions Family Shelter on Southeast Stark Avenue is seeing record-high usage, but officials say this is not directly tied to the ongoing cleanup of homeless camps on the Springwater Corridor Trail.Local shelters

Human Solutions runs two different shelters on the edge of Gresham that serve different needs.

The first is a family center, on the corner of Southeast 160th Avenue and Southeast Stark Street, which has experienced a steady rise of occupants every night. A recent single-night record of 225 was set, though the increases have little to do with the sweeps.

“There really weren’t a lot of families on the trail, so we didn’t see a bump in that particular way,” said Charles Hodge, director of emergency services with Human Solutions.

Hodge oversees all of the shelter services, and said that with the cooling temperatures the number of families will continue to grow. The family center is a “no turn away” emergency shelter that is open year-round from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Human Solutions other newly opened shelter, the Gresham Women’s Shelter, has been taking more individuals displaced from the trail.

“We did a soft opening at the women’s shelter last week to make sure everything is ready, all the showers and pipes,” Hodge said.

Located on 162nd Avenue and East Burnside, the shelter will be able to hold 90 people — 70 regular beds and 20 emergency beds. Any woman in crisis is welcome at the shelter, though they don’t accept walkups.

The shelter is a new model for Human Solutions and represents an effort to respond to feedback from their partner groups that identified the need for this kind of safe place. Those same groups can send women in need towards the shelter, like many of the Springwater campers forced to leave the trail.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Homeless campers gather on the Springwater Corridor Trail Sept. 1, the first day of an ongoing city of Portland cleanup of homeless camps along the popular hiking and biking trail. With hundreds of campers on the move, there appears to be little way of tracking where those persons have gone. Ongoing process

Gresham has added more services to the city to help address the issue of homelessness. The city hired Newton Gborway to serve as the Homeless Services specialist and partnered with Central City Concern to enact the Clean Start program. Both serve as ways for the city to connect with the homeless, attempting to open better lines of dialogue.

As the Portland cleanup continues, that dialogue will become even more important as individuals are forced to find new places to live. While Gresham, so far, has not been affected too much by the sweeps, city officials say they are continuing to monitor the situation.

“I am not fearful that Portland’s actions will push the issue into Gresham because we have a substantial head-start, a consistent police presence and a long-term policy commitment,” Bemis said in a statement.