As City Officials Tow RVs Off the Portland Streets, People Priced Out of Apartments Wonder Where to Go Now

The Strip is gone…

The “Strip,” a stretch of North Lombard Street in St. Johns where approximately 20 homeless people lived in a dozen RVs, is gone. In July, WW explored the location, a favorite dumping ground for abandoning RVs and a makeshift community for people living on the streets.

Only a converted school bus is still there—its disabled owner has invoked the Americans With Disabilities Act to fend off the city. It’s a strategy that disabled homeless people living in RVs in other cities are using.

Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera says one or two of the RVs from the Strip moved, and the rest were towed to a police impound lot. PBOT and police are working with the sole remaining occupant, Rivera says, to find “other suitable locations.”

While the city’s new Community Caretaking tow program has gotten many of the most dilapidated RVs off city streets, Lents neighborhood activist Jennifer Young says new RV “hot spots” keep popping up—like the one on a hillside near Interstate 205.

Debbie Saylor and her partner Steve’s Winnebago was one of five parked there Sunday, but the retirees and their RV don’t fit “zombie” stereotypes. In May, three months after the city passed a rule mandating landlords pay moving costs in some evictions, Saylor and Steve received $3,000 from their landlord after a “no-cause” eviction from their two-bedroom apartment along Southeast 82nd Avenue. (Steve declined to give a last name.)

After looking for housing and finding only “scammers” and move-in costs around $4,000, they bought a 1988 Superchief and moved their belongings into two storage units. The pair share a monthly income of $1,500 that will jump to over $3,000 after Steve’s pension begins. They plan to head to the coast and seek a trailer park that takes older RVs.

MOVING ON: Debbie Saylor is parking a Winnebago on the street until she can find an RV park on the Oregon Coast. (Daniel Stindt)
MOVING ON: Debbie Saylor is parking a Winnebago on the street until she can find an RV park on the Oregon Coast. (Daniel Stindt)

In Court Records, Portland Man Who Dumped 11 RVs on the Street Explains What He Was Thinking

“I know it’s a disgrace to the neighborhood, I know it’s despicable—I know all that. I’m not a moron.”

On Oct. 11, Portland resident John Maher was found guilty of 13 misdemeanors stemming from dismantling and abandoning 11 RVs without a license in St. Johns.

Maher rented land at 6048 N Columbia Way to illegally dismantle at least 14 RVs, which were brought to him by towing companies. He successfully dismantled two and gave one away. Then he left 11 on city streets in March and April. Maher says the towing companies and property owner Ray Blackford had no knowledge of his plan.

Multnomah County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Demer, who prosecuted Maher, says nobody else is abandoning mobile homes on this scale. “The impact on the community of abandoning 11 RVs was significant,” Demer says, noting that each became a nexus for trash, debris and crime. “There’s a clustering effect.”

Here are Maher’s taped statements to Portland Police Detective Jeff Myers, submitted by prosecutors as evidence at his trial. They have been edited for space.

Retriever [Towing] and Speed’s [Towing] both volunteered to give me $300 [per RV] because that covers the garbage…and then out of the scrap that’s left, there’s like $200 to $300 that’s left in scrap. I would pay Ray the $100 that he wanted, and there’d be $100, $150 left for me.”

“That was my plan, that was my goal, to help these other two tow companies alleviate this big burden that’s been thrust upon all the tow guys. It was helping to solve a problem, and there was a little tiny, tiny bit of money to be made.”

“[Blackford’s] got working jaws that pretty much make quick work out of a motor home. It grabs a few big bites, he drops the bites into the drop box, and it’s ready to take to the dump, and it gets it down to [a weight] where the scale will take the frames. And you can get rid of them.”

In the recordings, Maher does not clearly state why he abandoned his plan to scrap the remaining RVs, but mentions that he needed 20 for the operation to be profitable, and that Blackford expressed concern that Maher had no dismantler or “wrecker” license.

“Everybody started questioning, ‘Don’t we need a wrecker’s license? Don’t we need a wrecker’s license?’ and I said, ‘Let me check, I don’t believe we do!'”

“[The RVs] weren’t partially scrapped [when abandoned on the streets]. People have done that to them since I put them out there. They were complete, there was motors, radiators, wheels, tires.”

“I despise doing what I did. I know it’s not right, but it’s the only way to get any attention to any of this. I know it’s a disgrace to the neighborhood, I know it’s despicable—I know all that. I’m not a moron.”

zombieland_homeless_RV_Daniel_Stindt_5
The “Strip” on North Lombard in Summer 2016. Photo by Daniel Stindt.

Portlanders Caught Selling a “Hazardous” RV Could Face a $500 Fine or Six Months in Jail

RVs on the Portland streets, by the numbers.

650
The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s “rough estimate” of the total number of RVs on Portland streets with people living in them, based on calls to a city hotline, reports from police, and PBOT parking enforcement.

156
Number of RVs towed by the city since Jan. 1. Roughly 100 of these were towed since May under the city’s new tow program for occupied, hazardous RVs.

$1,500
The estimated cost to dismantle an RV legally. Calls to four local junk yards and auto salvages Oct. 16 found no one willing to take an old, nonworking RV—even for money. “I’m not interested—no sir,” said Oregon & A to Z Auto Wrecking.

$300
What John Maher charged.

$500 or six months in jail
The potential penalty for selling a “hazardous” RV under a new Portland policy passed by the City Council on Oct. 4.

Oct. 29
The date of the city’s RV Disposal Turn-In Day, at which it will take residents’ old campers off their hands, free of charge, at Portland International Raceway.

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