ODOT rolls in boulders in hopes of keeping homeless campers away

ODOT rolls in boulders in hopes of keeping homeless campers away »Play Video
The Oregon Department of Transportation placed these boulders under the overpass at Interstate 205 and Foster Road in an effort to eliminate a persistent homeless camp.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Transportation is trying a new approach to eliminate a longstanding homeless camp under Interstate 205 at Foster Road.

It has moved out the camp and moved in big boulders to prevent people from returning to the area.

It is the first time ODOT has used this tactic, so it will be monitoring the situation. For a long time, the homeless have been setting up camp under the overpass.

The entrance to the commercial section of the Lents Neighborhood is the first area people see when they exit I-205 at Foster Road. Since it is ODOT property, the Lents Neighborhood Association has been asking for help to alleviate the homeless camping problem.

The group also asked ODOT to make the area look better with landscaping. So the agency came up with the new idea and put in the boulders.

Right now, the big rocks just spread from the supports outward, leaving the middle area open.

"As of now, our plan is to replant the grass because we haven't observed a problem in the past with people trespassing and staying in the middle," said Kimberly Dinwiddie, spokeswoman for ODOT. "If we notice that problem, there is a good chance that we'll come back and put more boulders in place."

Trees and bushes will be added in a couple months.

This is the first time that boulders have been used around Portland as an alternative to the traditional chain-link or iron fencing.

If the rocks work to keep the campers away, ODOT said more boulders will go into other problem areas around town like at Interstate 5 near the Eastbank Esplanade.

Neighborhood residents are happy the agency has finally come up with a solution to eliminate the homeless camp.

Nick Christensen, former chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association, has lived in the neighborhood for five years.

"It comes to the point where you really want something else besides a random bookcase and sofa on a grass field in your neighborhood," he said. "So it's been good to have a start to getting some landscaping and an aesthetic way of addressing the camping that's been happening here."

According to ODOT, the move is more than just moving out the homeless: It is a matter of public safety.

"It kind of serves as a landing pad for if a vehicle happened to travel off of I-205, and roll off the road,” said Dinwiddie. "It has a place to land, and this is why it's closed off to the public. We don't want anybody getting hurt from something that could happen."

A few homeless were observed Thursday moving their camp over to under the MAX line overpass instead.

Here's an artist's conception of what beneath the overpass will look like after landscaping is added.