As the homeless crisis continues to simmer in Oregon's largest city, local officials working with nonprofit groups have deployed mobile hygiene stations in a bid to clean up some of the largest encampments.
Portland, with a metropolitan area of about 2.4 million people, has joined West Coast cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco in struggling with a growing homeless crisis that ranks among the worst in the country.
Safety resource website Security.org released a study on Monday that showed Oregon has the fourth-highest number of homeless people in the nation when adjusted for population. The study found Oregon has about 350 homeless people per 100,000 people, nearly double the national average of 168 per 100,000. The study also found that Oregon's homeless rate has increased by nearly 14.10 percent since 2014.
On any given night, thousands of people can be found sleeping on the streets of Portland. The latest count, released in August, shows that, in 2019, more people were sleeping outside in Multnomah County than at any time in the last decade. Of the 2,037 unsheltered people, nearly 80 percent reported having one or more disabilities.
In January, Portland launched a "Navigation Team" with outreach workers that have spent time going out to homeless encampments, focusing on specific locations in order to reduce impacts to area communities.
“These are campsites that for a very long time have been generating concerns and safety issues,” Denis Theiault, a spokesman for the Joint Office for Homeless Services, told FOX12 on Tuesday. “Not just public safety issues but health and safety issues for the folks who are camping there as well as the folks who are near those sites."
Part of that outreach includes offering sanitation services, such as a mobile hygiene unit that is comprised of two portable toilets, hand-washing stations, a garbage can, a sharp box, and lockers.
The mobile station deploys around various homeless encampments with the largest populations, according to officials. The current trailer on Southeast Flavel Street under Interstate 205 was moved to the underpass about two weeks ago.
Tracy Vargas, who has been camping out in southeast Portland for over three years, told FOX12 she appreciates that there is now a place where she is able to have access to a bathroom.
“You’ve got to find a business around the area that will let you come in and go,” Vargas told FOX12 Tuesday. “A lot of times you get left to going out in the woods or wherever you can go.”
Vargas said she's also working with the homeless outreach team to get her birth certificate, and agrees the program is a "wonderful idea.
Pat Perkins said she's seen an influx in homeless people in the 14 years she's lived in the area, and the garbage and human waste have grown exponentially in the past five years.
“It seems like it could be a health hazard, especially when you see needles and feces on the ground,” Perkins told FOX12, saying having a designated place to throw trash, hazardous materials and use the bathroom will hopefully improve conditions.
The sanitation services may be the most visible part of the outreach group but it's not their only goal, according to Theiault. He told FOX12 the group's ultimate plan is to get people permanently off the streets by providing them with necessary things to move forward.
“We’re going to get them their ID, we’re going to get them a birth certificate, we’re going to get them medical connections,” he told FOX12.
City officials said Tuesday that at least 15 people from the camp under Interstate 205 have been placed in shelters, including two families.
Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty contributed to this report.