7/29/2014

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SE PDX residents: Homeless camp = more crime; no camp = less

SE PDX residents: Homeless camp = more crime; no camp = less

PORTLAND, Ore. – While the city of Portland has been enforcing its no camping ordinance in downtown for weeks, people who live in other parts of the city believe they're getting the backlash.

Some people who live in the Lents Neighborhood in Southeast Portland are wondering if a rash of property crimes is related to a nearby homeless camp.

The camp is on property owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation near 92nd and Flavel. The agency cleaned it up a few months ago, but now the camp is back.

Across the road from the bus stop there's a semi-hidden homeless camp in the brush. People in the neighborhood say when the camp is gone, crime goes down. But when the camp is there, crime goes up.

Over the past week, Bill Werrmeyer says people have broken into several cars and houses on his street.

"We had someone try and go in our backyard but we got a dog back there to scare them off," he said.

Werrmeyer sits in his front yard most days and calls himself the "Neighborhood Watch."

"There's only one way in and one way out, so they gotta go by me," he said.

Portland police records show a steady increase in crimes like breaking and entering in the Lents Neighborhood where Werrmeyer lives. That’s up from 120 to 137 crimes between early June and the end of July.

"There's been people around here where people have found people camping in their yard," Werrmeyer said.

The homeless camp is not far from Werrmeyer's street. ODOT crews cleaned it up May 21. It's one of hundreds of its sites with homeless camps throughout the city.

"More than a dozen of these are done every day," said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "We face a complicated set of legal requirements involving state law, Oregon administrative rules and court rulings that set the patterns with what we do."

Crime has gone up between then and now as homeless campers have returned, but there's no way to say if there's a true connection.

For people in neighborhoods with homeless camps, should there be a line drawn to provide balance between the rights of the property owner and the homeless?

"The thing with that is we pay our taxes, they don't," said Werrmeyer. "I'm not trying to say that we have more rights than they do, but we're the ones that are paying the bills."

He wants the city to notice the connection and remember his street.

"We've got a good neighborhood. We want to take care of it," he said.

Figuring out exactly how many property crimes have been committed by homeless people means police going through hundreds of arrest records. KATU News will follow up on that.

According to ODOT, there aren't any future plans to clean up the camp in the Lents Neighborhood near 92nd and Flavel. It says it legally has to give 10 to 19 days of notice.

Resources: Find services or housing in your area: 211info or dial 211 or 1-800-SAFENET (1-800-723-3638) Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

One of our viewers flagged us about this spike in crime, which is why we started digging into it. If you have a story we should check out send us an email at newstips@katu.com.

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