Portland city employees clear a homeless encampment under a bridge at the Fore River Parkway Trail on Sept. 6. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland’s policy for handling the myriad items found when they clear homeless encampments is to store and return the items to their owners, should they be in good working condition. But many homeless people say that hasn’t happened in the city’s recent sweeps.

The city last summer created an official enforcement policy for encampments, which were popping up rapidly around the city. Danielle West, the interim city manager at the time, wrote that unauthorized camping is illegal in Portland, and therefore campsites ultimately would be removed.

But she emphasized the city’s commitment to undertaking this work with empathy and outlined a plan of action to ensure that those camping “are treated with dignity throughout the enforcement process.”

The policy laid out plans to provide ample notice before a sweep, to offer shelter beds and support services, and to store personal property. But after an encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail was removed on Sept. 6, nothing was stored, a city spokesperson confirmed last week, because nothing was deemed to be of value.

Stormy Little, 33, lived at the Fore River encampment for several months until it was cleared on Sept. 6. She said she didn’t believe the city made an effort to store any items that were left behind.

“They just bulldozed right through the fencing, and stuff just was going everywhere,” she said. “Stuff was just getting crushed into the ground. It was really crazy.”



The city has partnered with the nonprofit CommonSpace – formerly Amistad – since last summer to store any items that are removed from campsites. Brian Townsend, executive director of CommonSpace, said when his organization first entered into this agreement with the city, it expected to be inundated with items.

“We were braced for what might happen if we exceeded our capacity,” he said. “We’re always wondering if a truck is gonna show up, especially after a sweep, but it never has.”

After the Bayside Trail encampment was cleared in the spring, CommonSpace stored a few items – some backpacks, a generator and a bag full of photo albums, all of which have now been recovered by their owners – but nothing near what they expected.

After the Fore River sweep, CommonSpace received nothing. The city says that’s because no personal property was found. City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said the few items found during the sweep that were determined to be valuable were turned over to the police. She said they included a generator and several bicycles that the city believed were stolen.

The administrative policy from last summer defines “personal property” as items “reasonably recognizable as belonging to a person; [which have] apparent utility in [their] present condition and circumstances; and [are] not hazardous.” Examples include photos, identification documents, bikes, radios and strollers, among other things.


While the city insists that nothing that could be “reasonably recognizable as belonging to a person” was found at Fore River, some of the people who were removed from the encampment say they lost valuable items.

Amber Lesperance packs up her belongings on Sept. 6 as the city workers clear a homeless encampment along the Fore River Parkway trail. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Little heard the Fore River encampment would be shut down, she moved most of her stuff to the park and ride lot along Marginal Way. She stayed up most of the night packing her things, but she said some people living along the trail didn’t believe the encampment was really going to be cleared; they were hoping to get an extension.

The city’s policy allows homeless people to ask the city to store their belongings. It also says the city will store any unclaimed items they find at sweeps that could hold value or meaning.

Little has never heard of anyone having their belongings stored by the city. She didn’t know that was an option. “That’s not even a thing,” she said “Like who came down and said that? Who would have even heard about it?”

The policy also says city staff “should thoroughly document their actions during the removal process to adequately corroborate that personal property which is being disposed of is either hazardous or has no apparent remaining utility.”

The city didn’t provide that documentation to the Press Herald when asked Friday. Grondin, the city spokesperson, said current protocol is to “wait for people to finish collecting their personal property and belongings and get the OK from them that they are done before any cleanup of the site is performed.”



Bruce Cavallaro, 58, has been homeless for about six years. He is a veteran and has post-traumatic stress disorder. Before the sweep, he said he was splitting his time between Marginal Way and the Fore River trail.

He said he saw countless items discarded by city staff at the trail sweep, including shoes, clothing and tools.

“I understand they have a timeline to work through, but you know, that’s people’s life. That’s their home,” he said. “It meant more to them than obviously to the people smashing it with a bulldozer.”

Bruce Cavallaro sits on a curb in the Department of Transportation park and ride lot along Marginal Way in Portland on June 7. Cavallaro had been living at the Bayside Trail encampment until the city cleared it in May. He then split his time between the park and ride and the Fore River Parkway Trail, which the city cleared this month. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Cavallaro’s brother lost his tent, which he noted had cost several hundred dollars. Now he is sleeping in a much smaller tent that a friend lent him.

“I didn’t hear of anything that was in good working conditions or of value, and there were plenty of staff on site, so if anybody had that issue, they could have talked to staff who were there,” Grondin said.


The deadline to clear the Fore River encampment was announced months in advance, and signs warning campers about the sweep were put up at the encampment several weeks before cleanup crews arrived on Sept. 6.

Grondin insisted that the city did its due diligence and acted in accordance with its policy. She believes that storage was not necessary after the Fore River clearing because the city provided ample notice of the sweep, so people living in the area were able to move their stuff.

“There has been enough time for people to collect belongings and take them with them,” she said. “I can’t guarantee that someone didn’t lose a wallet obviously because it could have been mixed in with trash.”

Todd, 38, who would not give his last name, said advanced notice of a sweep isn’t enough to help people hang on to valuable items.

“You give people a little bit of time, but you don’t provide moving services for people to move out of there, and then when they can’t move all their stuff, they take their stuff and throw it away,” he said.

Todd, who was camping at the trail until the sweep and is now at the park and ride, said the city should do more to let people know about the storage option.


“They’ve never done that,” he said. “They never provided any storage for anyone’s stuff.”

Cam, 32, who asked to only be identified by his first name, said he lost everything. He lived at the Fore River encampment, where he had built what he described as “a two-story hut” out of wood pallets. He said city officials gave him time to get what he could out of the structure before it was bulldozed, but what he could grab “wasn’t much.”

He, too, was unaware that storage was an option.

“I lost most of my clothes, but the biggest thing was my wallet with a picture of my kids in it,” he said. “I don’t get to see them much. The kids are with their mother, and that picture gets me through the night.”

City workers clear debris from a homeless encampment alongside the Bayside Trail in May. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Cam said the sweep was traumatizing. He is sleeping in a small tent now with a friend, and he misses the home he had built on the trail.

“We’re all somebody’s sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and grandparents out here,” he said. But the sweep left him feeling “less than human.”



Townsend said the teams from CommonSpace who were present for the Fore River sweep reported that it was a chaotic environment, and that it appeared that most people were attempting to move their things to another encampment rather than go to a shelter. Townsend acknowledged that the city provided months of notice before the sweep, but nevertheless, “the experience on the ground was one of disorder and haste.”

He noted that critics of encampment sweeps often point to the loss of valuable items as a reason these sweeps should not happen. He said because of the chaos, it is likely difficult to take any sort of reliable inventory of items or ensure that communications have reached everyone.

“Things that seem small are actually really massive in a situation like that, and it’s regrettable,” Townsend said.

As for why more stuff from the sweeps isn’t reaching CommonSpace for storage, Townsend can’t say for sure. “There’s not a lot that we know about why we are or aren’t receiving materials,” he said.

“I think a lot of folks, for good reason, feel like the best thing is to stay close to their items, and if they aren’t familiar with how this works, they might not have a lot of trust in the process,” Townsend said. He also noted that increased communication with homeless people about the option to store things might help more people utilize CommonSpace for storage.

The city has plans to move forward with dismantling the Marginal Way encampment sometime before the weather turns cold this fall, although a specific date has not yet been set. Storage will continue to be an option, and the city said it will bring any valuable items left behind to CommonSpace after the next sweep.

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