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Portland resumes homeless camp removal as needles and trash pile up

Kaylee Greenlee, DCNF

Officials plan to increase removals of homeless camps where trash, needles and other biohazards have accumulated in Portland, Oregon, a local CBS affiliate reported Wednesday.

The size and number of homeless camps in the city increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to KOIN 6. Officials did not remove any camps from March to July 2020, then picked up operations in a limited capacity, targeting areas where the biggest health and safety risks were identified in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local guidelines.

Officials removed around 50 campsites a week before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, KOIN 6 reported. With reduced operations over the last year, officials have removed an average of five sites a week. Campsites are targeted if they are causing an excess of trash including needles and other biohazardous waste like untreated sewage scattered across Portland.

Despite campsites growing, officials aren’t sure if more people are homeless than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to KOIN 6. Officials say it could take more than two years to clean up the encampments and trash to a pre-pandemic level.

Around 30 campsite locations have more than 10 structures, up from four or five spots a year ago, KOIN 6 reported. The number of campsites that score higher than 70 on the city’s Impact Reduction Program’s 100-point risk assessment scale has up by 20 locations.

Officials with the Impact Reduction Program reported record-breaking numbers of trash collection from campsites during the pandemic, according to KOIN 6. Over 818,500 pounds of trash was removed from campsites in March 2021, compared with 650,000 pounds during the same time in 2020.

“We recognize the challenging work done by the Impact Reduction Program to respect individuals experiencing houselessness while also maintaining safe and hygienic conditions, and are extremely grateful for the thoughtfulness and compassion they bring to their work,” Democratic Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a joint statement with Portland Commissioners, KOIN 6 reported.

Officials are looking into city-owned properties to serve as shelter facilities or camp sites for those displaced by the cleanup, according to KOIN 6.

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