Portland City Center

Hales: 'This is not about homelessness, this is about lawlessness'

Hales: 'This is not about homelessness, this is about lawlessness'
Homeless campers work to move their stuff from the sidewalk at Chapman Square in downtown Portland Thursday morning, Aug. 8, 2013. Mayor Charlie Hales has ordered the crackdown he said because of illegal activity in the camps.

PORTLAND, Ore. – When the sprinklers turned on, it was a clear message for homeless campers at Chapman Square in downtown to move on.

"This has never happened. These sprinklers have never turned on like this and sprayed us," said a man named Link. "This is the very first day these have ever hit us in the face."

Police also walked the sidewalks around the square and Terri Schrunk Plaza on Thursday morning, telling campers they had to move their stuff so the sidewalk could get cleaned up.

During an afternoon news conference, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said he ordered the crackdown because of illegal activity in the camps.

"This is not about homelessness, this is about lawlessness," he said. "I'm committed – everybody in this building is committed to making progress in the cause of homelessness. But this is about whether we are able to have a civil society and use that civil space – civic space – in a civil way."

Campers were cleared out from in front of City Hall two weeks ago but they simply moved to nearby sidewalks.

Hales says the city is simply enforcing current laws. He says people can sleep on the sidewalks at night but they can't live there.

A homeless camp under the Morrison Bridge was also cleaned up.