By Thacher Schmid
On July 15, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales gave an eviction notice to the largest homeless camp in the Pacific Northwest.
The mayor announced that, starting Aug. 1, Portland police would sweep homeless people living along the Springwater Corridor bike trail. As many as 500 people are living along the trail, with the biggest camps in East Portland between Southeast 82nd Avenue and the wetlands of Beggars Tick Wildlife Refuge.
The camps have incited the fury of neighbors as they grew during the past year, becoming one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the nation.
“We have resisted removing campers from the area because we don’t yet have good options for all the people living there,” Hales said in a statement. “But public safety and environmental issues have reached a tipping point.”
It’s unclear where the hundreds of campers will go. Multnomah County just opened a new East Portland shelter, but many of those beds are already taken.
In the week before Hales’ announcement, WW visited several camps along the Springwater. Here are three of the people who told us their stories.
Rachel Monahan contributed reporting to this story.
This July 2016 article set off a flurry of media articles in Portland by seemingly every major media outlet in the metro area.
East Portland’s Springwater Corridor May Now Be the Largest Homeless Camp in the United States
By THACHER SCHMID and RACHEL MONAHAN
A nearly two-mile stretch of bike trails and former wilderness now serves as home to hundreds of Portland’s homeless—making it the largest encampment in the Pacific Northwest and possibly the nation.
The Springwater Corridor has been a center of homelessness in East Portland for years, but the line of tents along the bike path has grown exponentially in the past six months.
On July 5, one day after a shooting sent a man to the hospital, WW visited the Springwater Corridor and counted 188 structures—tents, shanties, and lean-tos—between the food cart pod Cartlandia on Southeast 82nd Avenue and Beggars Tick Wildlife Refuge on Southeast 111th Avenue.
Advocates estimate the Springwater Corridor is home to as many as 500 people every night, most of them concentrated in that two-mile stretch.
It’s likely the largest camp in the Northwest and possibly the nation, since Seattle cleared out much of their largest unauthorized homeless camp, the Jungle. An official count of the Jungle in May found 201 tents and more than 336 people living along two miles. It’s now down to around 200 people, say advocates.
The dubious distinction of largest homeless camp in the country previously fell to a camp in California’s Silicon Valley. When that camp was cleared in 2014, it had 278 people.
(Advocates say the area of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row has a much larger concentration of homeless people living outdoors than any site in Portland. But L.A.’s downtown district, with its mix of social services and people sleeping on sidewalks, doesn’t fit the traditional definitions of a camp or tent city.)
Official numbers are hard to come by for the nation’s largest homeless camp, and some advocates dispute whether the Springwater’s two-mile stretch should be considered a single camp or multiple camps. Often there’s only an official number after a sweep.
“Once they get to that size, they inevitably get swept like the Hooversville of old,” says Paul Boden, executive and organizing director of Western Regional Advocacy Project, a San Francisco-based group that supports the homeless.
“Being by yourself and hidden, which is what’s expected of you when you’re homeless, leaves you really vulnerable,” Boden says. “Like anybody else, homeless people tend to congregate, but that’s illegal.”
But in Portland, Mayor Charlie Hales in February legalized camping in tents on city property in groups of up to six people. Parks were supposed to be forbidden for camping under the policy.
The city has conducted several small sweeps along the Springwater Corridor, but has to yet to disperse the largest camps there, despite the fact that camping on the bike path violates both of Hales’ policies. Instead, the city launched a months-long process to figure out what to do.
There’s been little progress on figuring out where Springwater residents should go.
A similar problem is facing Seattle, where officials threatened a full sweep of the Jungle, but backed off. There are two hundred people remaining there, says Timothy Harris, founding director of Seattle’s newspaper for the homeless, Real Change.
“‘Outreach to where?’ is the recurring phrase around here,” says Harris. “Unless you have services and housing to offer people in a timely way it doesn’t help a lot.”
The last official count of the Springwater was in April, say city officials. The Portland Police Bureau estimated 141 dwellings along the Springwater. They didn’t count people, but one advocacy organization estimates from its outreach work in the area that there are far more people now than dwellings.
“I have heard estimates as high as 500 people living on the Springwater,” says Tony Bernal, Director of Funding and Public Policy at Transition Projects.
There is a collectivist mentality along the trail, one self-described “mouthpiece” for the camps says.
“We give a shit about each other,” says Crash Anarchy, a Springwater camper, former aerospace steelworker and self-appointed spokesperson for “The Headquarters,” the largest of grouping of tents. “A lot of people don’t realize the kind of community we have down here. We finally have a spot where we can live safely.”
Anarchy—one of a disproportionate percentage of homeless people who are transgender—wore a V For Vendetta mask during an interview with WW. Anarchy took a break from epoxying a cracked bong to show off a “minimalist” tent that’s been home for five and a half years in the area.
Crash Anarchy, 36, lives along the Springwater Corridor.
Crash Anarchy, 36, lives along the Springwater Corridor.
A neighbor’s tent features five-foot sunflowers in a lovingly tended garden. Other sites incorporate heavy furniture and bark dust paths.
Many in the camps diligently clean up, and use city-sponsored dumpsters and porta-potties, but there are also piles of garbage and a fleet of shopping carts. Campers tell stories of barely containing dangerous fires.
A neighbor, Tom Alvarado, says the situation is becoming “crazy … apocalyptic,” with feces left on the bike path and aggression towards passersby.
It’s unclear how many people and how many different agencies it would take to sweep or relocate the Springwater camp. Previous sweeps have moved campers east. A thicket of governmental agencies and work groups has grown around the Springwater, running into opposition from neighborhood associations to the creation of any sanctioned camps.
Shannon Singleton, executive director of housing nonprofit JOIN, believes there may be a future opportunity to relocate people into a city-sanctioned, self-governed camp in a safer location.
“I’m hopeful that there’s going to be options that look like a Right 2 Dream Too and a Dignity Village, and aren’t necessarily mass, facility-based shelter,” Singleton says, “that we’ve got a range of options for folks where they can get a safe night’s sleep, but not be tied to it being kind of the traditional [shelter] model.”
Women in the Portland Police Bureau use excessive force far less than men.
TEACHING BY EXAMPLE: Police officers and experts say the Portland Police Bureau could do more to learn how and why female officers use force less often than their male counterparts. Officer Alicia Russell (above) responds to a report of an attempted break-in at an Alameda house on Dec. 8. – IMAGE: Cameron Browne
The Portland Police Bureau has a problem with excessive use of force, but the women who serve as officers aren’t to blame.
Across the board, female officers account for a far smaller share of the use of force by Portland police, and represent a tiny share of legal settlements for excessive force compared to male officers. They are also involved in a far smaller share of shootings, relative to their numbers in the bureau.
Female officers in the bureau say they use force when necessary but more often employ other tactics, including what one veteran officer called a “mommy voice,” to de-escalate situations that can lead to a need for force.
Yet the bureau isn’t taking full advantage of the lessons of its female officers. Police officials say only one of the 22 officers in the bureau’s Training Division is female.
“We would be as open as anybody for exploring the disparity in case there is something that can be learned from it,” says Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. “If there is something that can be gleaned from it, we want to do that.”
Police officials say they see no reason female officers cannot serve in the same capacity as sworn male officers in the bureau, and police brass continue to try to recruit more women.
“I’m proud of the work that has been done by the [bureau’s] personnel division in their recruiting of women and minorities to the Police Bureau,” Chief Mike Reese said in a statement to WW. “My expectation is that we continue to recruit diverse candidates to the Police Bureau in the years to come.”
Meanwhile, the bureau still has its all-male enclaves—including the Special Emergency Response Team, or SERT. And police officials claim they don’t track even the most basic statistics to help them understand how and why female officers handle situations requiring force differently than men.
“They know it,” says retired Lt. Michelle Lish, who retired from the force in 2006 after 25 years as a Portland police officer. “They might not maintain it, but they know it.”
Portland police have faced allegations of excessive use of force for decades, but the hammer fell in September 2012, when the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the bureau’s “pattern and practice” of excessive force against the mentally ill violated federal law.
The DOJ’s 14-month investigation found the bureau’s officers too often use a higher level of force than necessary; overuse electronic control weapons or Tasers; and use a disproportionate level of force when responding to minor offenses.
The problems go deeper than the cops on the street, the DOJ found, and include “deficient policy and training, as well as inadequate supervision.”
The Police Bureau and the DOJ have reached a settlement aimed at fixing problems cited in the investigation.
The bureau has a proud history that includes hiring the first female police officer in the U.S. and two female police chiefs, including the first female chief of a big-city department. The bureau has known for a long time its female officers use force differently than men. A 2009 report by the city auditor found that Portland’s female officers filed an average of 2.2 use-of-force reports that year; male officers filed an average of 3.2 reports.
WW interviewed a half-dozen female officers. They spoke frankly about the challenges they face in a career that’s legendary for being male-dominated, as well as about specific strengths they bring to police work.
Some agreed to speak on the record, for the first time, about differences in their approach compared to male officers.
“[Using less force] is just the nature of the beast of being a female,” Lish says. “Our nurturing nature makes us more inclined to try to reason, try to mitigate the circumstances, try to de-escalate things.”
To Lish, that “nurturing nature” doesn’t interfere with a female officer’s ability to use force when necessary. She recalled one arrest that briefly landed her in the hospital.
But female officers also bring different communication skills to bear upon sensitive situations. Several of the bureau’s female officers recalled playing the gender card in order to keep Tasers and Glocks in their holsters.
“I remember many times when I really sweet-talked a guy to get him in the back of my car,” says Assistant Chief Donna Henderson, currently the bureau’s highest-ranking female. “[One suspect] was 6-foot-6 and weighed 300 pounds, and there was no way I was going to get into a fight with him.”
She’s not alone.
“I’ve been able to use a mommy voice to get people to stop doing what they’re doing,” said Deanna Wesson-Mitchell, who recently moved from a position as the bureau’s recruitment coordinator to police policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales.
That female officers approach problems differently and use force less doesn’t surprise experts. “It’s a woman’s method for dealing with conflict,” says Roy Bedard, a Florida-based consultant and expert in police procedures. “Women tend to have more mental choices. Men almost default to violence.”
Geoffery P. Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, adds, “Historically, women officers don’t use the same level or type of force, because they have different communication skills.”
The numbers bear this out. Proportionally, Portland’s female officers are involved in shootings far less often than male officers.
Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says the bureau doesn’t maintain a database or list of officer-involved shootings—a fact that surprises some experts.
“If you’re having a hard time getting numbers, there’s a problem there, period,” said Bedard, the police consultant. “They need to be more transparent.”
Failing to track such an important aspect of bureau operations isn’t new. The DOJ report called the bureau’s collection and review of force data inadequate. The bureau, the DOJ said, failed “to collect even basic acceptable force investigative data,” and these gaps were “too many to list.” The city’s settlement with the DOJ calls for the bureau to keep better data.
Copwatch, a police watchdog group, has built a database from newspaper accounts and police reports. The group’s database shows female officers were involved in only 5.7 percent of shootings since 1992—just seven of 123 officer-involved shootings.
“So it’s a dynamic of the skills of the female officer and the concerns of the suspects that don’t want to attack a female officer,” Alpert says. “That’s a pattern that [criminologists] have all found.”
Taxpayers have paid out far less in legal settlements for incidents involving female officers.
The city’s Risk Management Division provided WW with a database showing settlements or verdicts for the plaintiff in 90 police cases from 1992 to 2013 coded “use of force.” Since most large payouts received media attention, WW compared the database with news reports and added a handful of large payouts the city’s list didn’t include.
WW’s findings: Fewer than 1 percent of $11.4 million in city payouts since 1992 stemmed from excessive force by a female officer.
One notable case involved Officer Jennifer Thompson, who in 2007 used a Taser on Hung Minh Tran outside the Cheerful Tortoise at the corner of Southwest 6th Avenue and College Street. The city settled for $81,766 after an arbitrator found Thompson shot Tran in the back with a Taser while he was on his knees with his hands on his head.
Arbitrator Alan Bonebrake called Thompson’s actions “unnecessary, unreasonable and an excessive use of force.”
Henderson says the bureau has already made big gains in reducing the use of force. “We’ve really made some huge strides in the last couple of years,” she says, “with our [Crisis Intervention Team] program, [and] training people how to communicate.”
Several police officers interviewed by WW say they believe many people the cops deal with are reluctant to become aggressive or violent with a female officer. “Why officers use force can have complex reasons behind it,” says Simpson, the Police Bureau spokesman. “It could be that suspects are less likely to physically attack female officers. We don’t know that.”
Simpson says another possible explanation for the lower use-of-force statistics for women is that female officers may be given less dangerous assignments. He called patrol duty “the most dangerous job” in the bureau. When he checked, he found that just 14.4 percent of Portland’s patrol officers are women.
That’s close to the overall rate of women on the force, 15.1 percent, and down slightly from the bureau’s historic numbers: 16.7 percent in 2000, according to Copwatch, and 17 percent in 1972, according to an official Police Bureau history.
Until recently, the bureau had no women serving in its Traffic Division. In October, Capt. Kelli Sheffer was assigned to oversee the division after her promotion to captain by Reese in November 2012.
The bureau says no women now serve on the 10-officer K-9 team. Nor are there any women on the 26-officer SERT, which is essentially a SWAT team that responds to the most dangerous police calls, such as hostage situations or calls involving armed, dangerous or barricaded suspects.
The only former female member of SERT, Sgt. Liani Reyna, filed a 2001 complaint with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries alleging she was “forced to resign” after blowing the whistle on the team’s hazing practices, according to reports in The Oregonian.
Her complaint led to discipline against 20 officers, including herself, and the brief disbanding of SERT during the bureau’s investigation.
The Oregonian in 2002 reported BOLI dropped its investigation when Reyna initiated a $1 million lawsuit against the bureau in federal court. She lost a jury verdict in 2005 but continues to work at the bureau.
Police officials say women simply aren’t applying for these jobs. Simpson says only three women applied for the K-9 unit this year, and no women were among the 45 applicants for assignments in traffic or SERT.
Since Reese took over in 2010, bureau recruits have averaged 41 percent minority and female, as opposed to 30 percent from 2005 to 2010, according to Simpson. Reese recently promoted Capt. Sara Westbrook to commander of East Precinct, the largest in the city.
But among the recruits in 2011 and 2012, only 16 percent were women, or about the same as the bureau as a whole.
Part of the problem is the small pool of applicants from which the bureau can draw. Having a diverse police department is “easier said than done,” says Eriks Gabliks, director of the Oregon State Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state’s police academy. He says police work isn’t an easy sell for many young women, in Oregon or elsewhere.
“If we have 10 percent [women], that might be average or that might be high,” Gabliks says. “You really have to work with who’s in the pot, and are they qualified.”
Wesson-Mitchell says the bureau could make an administrative change to create promotion opportunities for female officers by returning to a “dual list” policy: using a single test for officers to become either detective or sergeant.
The gender difference between the two jobs is significant: 28.7 percent of detectives are women, compared to 11.8 percent of sergeants, according to the bureau.
Simpson, the police spokesman, says the bureau had such a policy from 1996 to 2001.
Currently, he adds, sergeants and detectives can both apply for lieutenant. “Most lieutenants and above came from the sergeant rank,” he says. “Sergeants are simply better prepared.”
Wesson-Mitchell, however, says detectives have shown plenty of ability to supervise and lead.
“When something happens out on the street, who do they call to come and manage it? Detectives,” she says. “They’re doing supervisory action.”
Mary-Beth Baptista, who recently retired as director of the city’s Independent Police Review Division, says the bureau’s biggest struggle with female officers is not hiring them but keeping them.
“I think they are making sincere efforts, I really do,” Baptista says. “My bigger concern is, once they have more diversity, how do they keep them? Has the bureau really thought about ways to ensure that these [women] feel comfortable there?
“It’s not whether you can find [women officers] to hire. It’s whether they stay and they succeed.”
The “Gender Rap” article brought a strong reaction from the Portland Police Bureau, namely the following press release — which, ironically, itself mispelled the very name of the writer it was accusing of “inaccuracies”: “Thacher” was spelled as “Thatcher” even though Sgt. Simpson had numerous emails from me in his inbox. Willamette Week printed no correction.
Police Bureau Corrects Inaccuracies in Newspaper Article Published Today
Portland Police Badge
December 11, 2013 23:12
A recent article, (“Gender Rap,” Willamette Week, December 11, 2013) contained several inaccuracies. Unfortunately the writer, Thatcher Schmid, omitted information that fundamentally affects how the Police Bureau and its treatment of women is portrayed in the article.
The story stated: “Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says the bureau doesn’t maintain a database or list of officer-involved shootings – a fact that surprises some experts.”
This statement is inaccurate and untrue. The writer requested a list of officer-involved shootings going back two decades broken down by the gender of the officers involved. The Bureau absolutely maintains records of all officer-involved shootings; what the writer was told was the Bureau does not break the officers out by gender.
In addition, the writer states: “Simpson says another possible explanation for the lower use-of-force statistics for women is that female officers may be given less dangerous assignments.”
This statement was never made by Sgt. Simpson and completely fabricated. The writer asked the question: “Are female officers in positions that would put them in harm’s way as much as the men?” Sgt. Simpson responded that patrol duty is “the most dangerous job” in the Bureau, which the article accurately quotes.
Other information provided to the writer which was omitted from the article include:
* The Bureau’s Bomb Squad has one female member out of a total of 6.
* The Bureau’s Crisis Negotiation Team, which often works closely with SERT, has four female negotiators out of a total of 16.
* Both Assistant Chief Donna Henderson and Lieutenant Rachel Andrew promoted upward from the rank of Detective.
Women in policing is a topic that deserves attention and thoughtful discussion. The Police Bureau remains committed to recruiting and training women as police officers, and will continue to be transparent and forthright around issues surrounding this topic. It is our hope that when journalists report on this subject, they do so with accuracy and the intent to tell the entire story factually.
Sgt. Pete Simpson
Portland Police Bureau
1111 SW 2nd Ave, Suite 1526
Portland, Oregon 97204
My first piece for Willamette Week:
Signs Of Discontent
Billboard wordplay has caught the Blazers off guard and angered some feminists.
It takes a second glance to realize that some billboards in the city that’s home to the Trail Blazers aren’t a typo.
The capital letters, several feet tall and a dozen wide, spell the words “TAIL BLAZERS” and are nestled between the faces of actors Charlie Sheen and Neil Patrick Harris. They’re plastered on at least three billboards and one MAX light-rail train as part of a NW32/KRCW ad campaign to pitch two TV series, Sheen’s Two and a Half Men and Harris’ How I Met Your Mother, just as the Trail Blazers’ basketball season started in October.
Both shows appear in syndication and share womanizing as a leitmotif. But the ads have sparked controversy.
In early November, the Oregon Women Lawyers email listserv erupted in a flurry of emails about the ads, calling them “demeaning,” “scary” and “genuinely offensive.”
And other residents of a city known nationally for its child sex-trafficking problem and myriad strip clubs are objecting, too, beyond the quibbles from some of the lawyers group’s 1,500 members.
“They’re horrible, horrible,” said Jennifer Faust, 42, squinting at the Tail Blazers billboard above the Lucky Devil strip club on Southeast Powell Boulevard. “It’s like, why? Why do we promote this?”
“It’s cowardice, actually, and very discriminatory and prejudiced,” said William Bierbrauer, a 57-year-old Blazers fan who proudly recalls the team’s 1977 championship season.
A Trail Blazers spokeswoman distanced the team from the ads.
“We are aware of the sign and it is apparent that they are looking to leverage our brand to promote their programming,” spokeswoman Alissa Moore wrote in an email. “We don’t care for the message as it is not aligned with how we look to conduct ourselves.”
It’s an especially sensitive topic for the Blazers, still struggling to live down the “Jail Blazers” era, when Zach Randolph, Damon Stoudamire and Qyntel Woods had run-ins with the law and Ruben Patterson was required to register as a sex offender after he pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of his children’s nanny.
NW32’s owner, the Chicago-based Tribune Company, did not respond to a request for comment.
Charlie Sheen’s agent, Stan Rosenfield, also declined comment about the timing of the ads, after recent allegations by a porn actress that Sheen assaulted her, as well as Sheen’s guilty plea in August to charges of assaulting his wife last Christmas.
The recent discussion on the OWLlistserv was intense and intellectual, ranging to such far-flung topics as traditional Muslim hijab dress and the Junior Blazers Dancers.
OWL members who responded to a Nov. 28 posting with this reporter’s name and telephone number had diverse takes on the controversy. Not all were offended by the billboards.
“I wasn’t offended by it at all, and actually, it seemed outrageous how big of a deal it was made out to be,” said Alana Iturbide, 25, a Lewis & Clark law student. “It was pretty one-sided, people felt it was demeaning to women, etcetera. Everyone is entitled to put up billboards and have free speech, essentially.”
FACT: “ Tail Blazers” is also the name of a Portland group of dog lovers—mostly women—who get together to play a game called flyball, in which dogs navigate obstacles to retrieve balls. Co-founder and certified dog trainer Greta Kaplan wrote to say that her teammates found the billboards “crass.”
Friends of Vista Bridge
The transformation of the “Suicide Bridge” would never have occurred if not for the unique qualities found in a single, fatefully located Portland family — a spark, a conscience, and champion.
It’s only halfway there, yet it may already be among the most successful suicide-prevention movements in U.S. history. Friends of the Vista Bridge believes its volunteers saved several lives since Spring 2013, when volunteers walked the bridge each night and morning. A temporary barrier went up on the bridge in September, and no one has jumped since — though at least two individuals have been brought down off the fence by emergency responders.
Anne Kahn was the spark. On January 22, 2013, she was in her parents’ shared offices directly beneath the Vista Bridge in SW Portland, coming back from the back room, where she went to find a sweater. Then she saw it — the body. 19-year-old Aris Donshae Bishop’s perfectly manicured fingernails, poking out from beneath a sheet. At 22, already a black belt and Art Institute of Portland student, she had a panic attack. She couldn’t, wouldn’t make sense of it. She just sobbed.
Anne’s parents suddenly saw the scene differently — through the eyes of youth.
“My mom had witnessed some of the jumping, and my dad has dealt with nine over the years, but when it struck my father’s daughter, I think that was really the spark that ignited the flame,” she said. “It just shook me up really badly. I was sobbing, I had never seen something so dramatic like that in front of my eyes, so I think that’s when we all started thinking about what to do next to take the initiative.”
A professional life coach, sympathetic listener and natural organizer, Bonnie Kahn was the conscience. Her gentle presence in the Friends of the Vista Bridge helped create a space for grief, for talking about a taboo, for taking action.
“My dad was like, ‘just look away, just ignore it,’” Anne Kahn said. “My mom was like, ‘No! We need to do something, we can’t just ignore it.’”
Then there was the champion. A literate man of surprisingly tall stature who references Edgar Allen Poe’s “imp of the perverse” and has seen lives take troubling paths in his own work, Ken Kahn’s leadership pushed the Friends movement over the top, helping it reach local politicians and national media. City Commissioner Steve Novick found $236,000 in emergency funds to fund the nine-foot metal fence that went up in September.
“If you have passion in your heart, people will get out of your way,” he told a group of 50 Friends of Vista Bridge volunteers during a celebration of the new temporary barriers. “I am extremely clear about what I want, and I know that you are too.”
“They’re very inspirational to me,” volunteer Susan Cech said of the family. “When you believe in something so deeply, and with such passion, you just keep moving forward, and you don’t back down and you stand your ground. They did it in a way that was kind, and thoughtful and considerate and tried to take into account everyone’s opinions.”
“A lot of times people think activism has this edge, this anger to it,” said Cech, a fifth-generation Oregonian and volunteer with the Trauma Intervention Program, a Portland/Vancouver nonprofit. “This wasn’t out of anger, I think it was out of … sadness.”
The group’s success was enough to melt a jaded lawyer’s heart.
To read the rest of the story, click here: https://thacherschmid.wordpress.com/words/superthank/