Homeless move easily from Portland to suburbs

Homeless move easily from Portland to suburbs »Play Video

TUALATIN, Ore. - It's a scene that seems out of place in suburban Tualatin.

Three homeless men camped out in a patch of park near Tualatin Commons, popping open beers and bragging about their alcoholic exploits.

"We do what we do but we don't  hurt anybody," one of the men said. "But we drink a lot."

"The cops are always harassing us just 'cause we want to drink and everything," another man complains.

No longer just camped out under the bridges of Portland or on urban freeway ramps, the homeless have moved to the suburbs. And that doesn't excite everybody, especially some business owners and police officers.

Carl Goodspeed, a longtime Tualatin business owner, is one of those critics. He is familiar with the homeless trio that turns the nearby park into their own outdoor bar.

"They're more interested in having a beer than doing work," he said. "I'd come in the mornings and have vomit in the front of my door."

He describes transients urinating on his floor, stealing liquor and scaring away customers.

"I don't really want my customers to think that every time they come here, they're going to get accosted by somebody," Goodspeed said.

Police find they are spending more time now dealing with the homeless.

In Beaverton, one bicycle cop said he spends almost all of his time responding to complaints involving transients. And in Tualatin, police said that in just a year, they've doubled the amount of time dealing with the issue.

Tualatin police have the names of 12 people who in the last nine months have been arrested a total of 84 times. In 2005, those same people were arrested 85 times.

A typical interaction involves telling a transient like Richard Robinson he's got to move his camp, which is set up on private property.

"Well if I had my choice, I'd be off the streets, I'd be in an apartment, I would not be bothering these nice officers all the time," Robinson said.

Police believe more homeless are moving out to the suburbs because of light rail.

They don't have to pay a fare to get on the MAX and can quickly make their way to Beaverton or Tigard.

Suburban officials are struggling to meet the demands of the new homeless population.

City leaders in Tualatin have begun talks with advocates for the homeless in an effort to create better living conditions for transients and for residents who feel harassed by some members of the homeless community.

Linda Moholt, the volunteer coordinator with the Tualatin School House Food Pantry, says the community needs to reach out to the homeless, who have been pushed out of downtown Portland due to urban revitalization.

She also blames the increase in homelessness on the closure of several trailer parks in Washington County.

In November, Grace Community Church in Tualatin will begin offering a monthly soup kitchen, setting up hot meals under tents outside of the church. Organizers also operate "Bowls of Grace" in downtown Portland. They hope to expand the program in Tualatin to offer the food and services more often.

Washington County has four shelters that provide basic care and housing with the designation "Family Shelters".

Homeless advocates say passage of the Public Safety Levy on Tuesday is critical if the four county shelters are to survive. The levy includes funding for the shelters who serve victims of domestic abuse as well as families facing homelessness.

The shelters are designed for families; they turn away single men and cannot serve those with criminal records, drug or alcohol addictions.

Tualatin police Officer Norm Tollefsen believes opening a soup kitchen in his city will just invite more transients into the city.

"Come on down to Tualatin. We've got hot showers and clean restrooms," Tollefsen said. "Well, that's pretty much a no-brainer."

In the meantime, some homeless said they are here to stay.

"Everybody says go to Portland, go to Portland, go to Portland," one man said, exasperated. "I don't live in Portland."