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Dog bite, tussle highlight issues with enforcing Portland camping law

Dog bite, tussle highlight issues with enforcing Portland camping law »Play Video
A dog bit a police officer who was trying to rouse a group of homeless people camping under the Morrison Bridge. The dog's ear can be seen at the bottom of this image taken from a video. (Photo from Mark Hofheins)

PORTLAND, Ore. – If you want to know just how difficult it is for Portland to enforce its sidewalk camping policy just watch the video from an altercation on Tuesday morning.

The video shows police officers clashing with homeless campers under the Morrison Bridge around 8 a.m. The officers had stopped by to give the campers a wake-up call.

After more than ten minutes of posturing and insults from those being told to move, it appears an officer reached for a dog that belonged to a camper.

“He had to step forward, reach down and grab it, wrangle it violently,” said Mark Hofheins, who recorded the video.

A police spokesman said the dog “attacked and bit an officer causing a minor injury.”

Regardless, the dog was the flashpoint that led to screaming and officers using pepper spray. Two people were eventually arrested, including one in the middle of a busy road.

Back in July, homeless camping came to a head when Mayor Charlie Hales said the city would roust people from any sidewalk in the city each morning. A pressing question remains, however: where will they go?

“If the question is where do we put our 1,700 homeless every night, that’s a much bigger question and a great question,” said Dana Haynes, a spokesman for Hales.

The city is already caught up in a fight over relocating the “Right to Dream Too” homeless camp. Now it has come to light that the city may be infringing on a prior agreement that reserve the camp’s proposed location for parking around a new hotel.

The city also built a $50 million homeless and social services center in Old Town to help combat the problem, yet confrontations like Tuesday’s scuffle persist.

“We can’t say ‘you must leave town,’ but we also can’t say we have lots and lots of affordable housing. We are in that conundrum,” Haynes said. “The housing commissioner is going to propose a lot more money on affordable housing.”

Hofheins said many of the people camping under the bridge have mental illnesses.

“These actions need to stop, because we’re out in the open and we’re trying to stay dry under a bridge,” he said.

“There’s an insufficient amount of shelters in Portland as there is in every city in America,” Haynes said. “A lot of the shelters are filled and have waiting lists. This is a massive problem.”