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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The City's Now Paying Private Security Guards to Dismantle Homeless Campsites. Here's What the Agreement Looks Like.

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 2:29 PM

Today's Mercury slips in a bit of news that broke too late to make a full story, but should interest you nonetheless.

Mayor Charlie Hales' office announced yesterday the city has hired "clean-up contractors" to oversee the contentious and time-consuming task of dismantling homeless campsites on city land. Local security company Pacific Patrol Services (PPS) nabbed a three-month contract to break up illegal sites. (You may be familiar with PPS employees from their presence on city parks property or the occasional skateboard attack on a teen.)

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Nothing's new, necessarily, in how these sweeps will go down—campsite removal has been a priority of the mayor's since last year. But Hales' spokesman Dana Haynes said yesterday that those efforts have been unwieldy to coordinate, and that bureaus controlling land where illegal sites popped up were sometimes too busy to push them out right away.

The PPS contract, it's hoped, will bring some consistency to the practice. It might bring greater frequency to campsite sweeps, as well, though that will be tough to confirm. One of the reasons Hales' office pursued the contract, Haynes explained, is that there's been difficulty in getting solid data around homeless sweeps conducted among city bureaus (it's not always cops that break up campsites). And items that were confiscated from sites—many of which need to be held for 30 days under state law—weren't always easy to track down.

"A hodgepodge is the only way to describe it," Haynes said. "What is changing is we’re hoping we’ll have more communication."

The contract won't exceed $115,000, according to Wendy Gibson, sustainable operations and maintenance manager in the Portland Office of Management and Finance. But a copy of the document [PDF], obtained by the Mercury this morning, actually calls for the clean up services to max out at $35,162.

Gibson said she wasn't sure where that number came from, and that the contract may have to be amended. The agreement—which was signed last week and took effect on Tuesday—lasts only three months, but it's possible it will be extended into the fiscal year that begins July 1 (if city council agrees).

It works like this: PPS will respond to campsites on city land once alerted by a bureau. In order to legally dismantle a site, officials need to post warning at least 24 hours in advance. The clean-up must be completed within seven days of that posting, Gibson said. The city's goal is within 48 hours.

Under the agreement, PPS has the option of contracting with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, which would have inmates complete the cleanup (a controversial issue, of late). But Gibson says the security company has indicated it will likely perform the clean up with its own staffers.

PPS is also required to document thoroughly all items it confiscates and throws away, and to submit pictures of campsites before cleaning them up. If the site's resident is on hand, workers must give them an hour to take their possessions before work commences. And PPS will maintain a repository—on a site the city provides—where homeless people can arrange to pick up their belongings.

The record keeping should bring more certainty to the circumstances behind Portland's homeless sweeps, which have drawn outrage from some homeless advocates in recent months. Stories frequently emerge of homeless people having IDs and other important items confiscated, but those tales are nearly impossible to confirm.

And there's also the chance that increased sweeps—if that's what this contract brings—would put more people in touch with social services. In compliance with state law, PPS will notify JOIN, a local homeless outreach organization, when clean-up notices have been posted. That gives the organization an opportunity to offer assistance to campers. Again, though, that was already protocol on clean-ups before the new contract.

One other facet of this—and something that Police Chief Mike Reese harped on in his ill-fated Prosper Portland proposal: the city's working to coordinate between its various land-owning bureaus (transportation, parks and environmental services, for instance) and outside agencies like ODOT and the Oregon Department of State Lands, to try to ensure campsite laws are enforced with some consistency.

That discussion's just beginning.

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