The Brief Life of a Homeless Encampment

The life of a homeless encampment can be brief.

Consider Village of Hope, a fledgling homeless village that popped up in a remote, woodsy area of Portland in late January. It featured 10 tents on wooden platforms, a shared kitchen and “Chill Out Zone” for mental health decompression. There were even plans for a human-powered laundry trough. “I don’t look at it as primitive,” said an organizer, Lisa Lake. “We need to be innovative so people who have nothing can be self-sufficient.”

But the day after the camp appeared, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler called the self-governed encampment, on parks-owned wetlands near the Columbia river, “unacceptable”. On 2 February, police and rangers cleared the site without incident.

Officials evidently have few reservations about displacing people even in winter or amid a homelessness crisis of unprecedented scale across the west coast. Indeed, three days later, a San Jose camp dubbed “Googleville” was also swept.

One Village of Hope resident, Kerry Wheeler, asked: “Why can’t they let us have one little place?”

This brief was included in the Guardian’s Outside in America newsletter on March 10, 2018.

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