Problematic Behavior or Activity
Over the past year, several business owners in the Beaverton area called the police department complaining of an increase in thefts. The Fred Meyer in Town Square became the number-one store for theft, surpassing both Gateway and Interstate locations. Loss-prevention specialists at Fred Meyer told me they saw an increase in theft when the homeless population increased. Property managers from the Peterkort area also reported an increase in theft from their stores related to the large number of transient camps in their area.
The Mountain Bike Team, which usually handles homeless issues, was not working from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2015. During this time, several transients told both Beaverton Police Department officers and sergeants that they came to Beaverton because the typical crimes (offensive littering, criminal mischief, and trespassing) were no longer enforced on a regular basis.
In addition, patrol officers saw a large increase in homeless calls for service during the past year. The calls ranged from people sleeping on private property and trash buildup from homeless camps to sign holders blocking traffic.
Impact on the Community
Transient camps swelled to the point that several business owners and citizens became worried about their safety.
The program’s main components involve educating business owners and bringing needed resources to the homeless community.
The Mountain Bike Team does this by focusing on relationship building between the homeless population and the stakeholders in the area (such as business owners and the City of Beaverton). Two officers on mountain bikes constantly patrol the city identifying homeless encampments. The officers are in constant contact with both land and business owners who bring transient camps to the BPD’s attention. Once identified, the camp occupants are contacted and given resources and the ability to help clean up the camp. The primary goal is to provide help and support for the homeless population while enforcing laws in place to protect business owners.
In addition to this we have enlisted the City Of Beaverton shops, Clean Water Services, TriMet, Washington County inmate crews, social service providers, and business owners to assist in cleanup and prevention of future problems. Some of our most successful projects have involved these entities coming together to achieve a common goal.
The cost is negligible. The only cost is for the two mountain bike officers.
We have received compliments and received feedback from homeless individuals complimenting the way they were treated by the police and how they used the opportunities and resources to help improve their situation.
Since the Mountain Bike program was reinstated in the summer of 2015, homeless calls for service are down, the number of illegal camps in the city has been reduced, and thefts at local stores are down.
In addition, business owners have taken steps to cut brush and clean areas where it was easy for people to hide while camping. Owners and property managers have also given several compliments about the reduced number of calls and problems with transients they have noticed since we started proactively dealing with the issue.
Several cleanup projects involving multiple agencies have been undertaken to eliminate areas where current camps were cleaned and to prevent future camps from concealment.
Critical Success Factors
The homeless problem is a nationwide issue that does not have an easy solution. Some agencies do nothing and watch the problem grow, while others take the other extreme and arrest everyone for all crimes. Neither approach solves the long-term problem.
Our approach attempts to include business owners and the homeless. Business owners are emailed or called on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to establish problem areas where trees or brush needs to be cut back. We also point out trash and other miscellaneous items on the property that need to be cleaned to make the area less inviting to camp. We have found that business owners are willing and extremely cooperative with our requests—and happy to help in the solution to the problem.
When we contact a homeless camp, we take time to find out why the person is homeless and exactly what they need to get themselves out of the situation. If there is a crime being committed, we will explain and issue a criminal citation. Next, we always give each person time and resources (trash bags, gloves, dumpsters), to clean the camp. After the camp is clean, we go to the City Attorney and request that all charges be dropped.
Before we break contact, we always provide a Street Roots guide and point to housing, shelter, and places where food is provided. The Street Roots guide is an 80-page book filled with information that can be overwhelming. We always take the time to point each person to the resources that best fit their situation. Over time we have learned which resources work best for people’s different and unique circumstances.
The most important factor to keep in mind is that every encampment is unique and requires a different and sometimes creative plan and response. If time and patience aren’t given to allow cleanup, the problem will likely not be resolved.
The second critical factor is being proactive with business owners to allow them to make improvements to land that makes it less inviting for camping. There has to be a routine daily communication between both parties.