City of Portland, ODOT run out of funds to clear homeless camps along roads

PORTLAND, Ore. — A homeless man gathered laundry from inside his tent Tuesday morning. It’s a big day for him, he said — he just found a free place to clean his clothes that’s within walking distance from his campsite along Interstate 405 in southwest Portland.

“It’s like lullaby music by now. I’ve gotten way used to it,” Michael Saxton said of camping next to a busy, loud interstate.

He’s been on the corner of Southwest 13th Avenue for two weeks.

“Here is like a safe place. I can leave and come back and all my stuff’s still here,” he said.

That newfound security is thanks, in part, to the city of Portland running out of money to remove camps that are on Oregon Department of Transportation property — something that has kept Saxton from settling anywhere for months.

“When I get a little bit of comfort, which is hard to find out here, those sweeps — I know the city is just trying to help and stuff but those sweeps come out of nowhere,” he said.

The state transportation agency provides the city with $2 million a year for homeless camp clean-ups on ODOT rights of way. The city is responsible for managing those funds, which should last until June 30, 2023. As of this month, they’ve already spent all the money for their budget year.

The city said that all the camp removals on ODOT property are “on pause” until they find more money or until their budget cycle ends, which is in roughly five months.

“I guess that’s lucky for me they’re not going to be able to throw me off of this place, which is nice,” said Saxton.

The city recently stepped up its Impact Reduction Program to remove more camps in dangerous, high-traffic areas. With more clean-up teams available, ODOT asked the city to increase how often they remove camps on their property too. That’s at least partly how the city used up all the money allotted for camp removals on ODOT property.

It’s a challenge for local leadership, yet a relief for homeless people like Saxton.

“Just peace of mind, being able to have stuff someplace and have it still be there,” said Saxton.

ODOT and the city are actively looking for more money for camp clean-ups, in addition to finding safe places for homeless people to go. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler met with Governor Tina Kotek on the issue recently.

Camps on city property are not affected by the depletion of funds for ODOT property, officials said. Those clean-ups and removals are still happening.


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