Halfway through contract to clean up campsites, security firm has only been dispatched once – for a false alarm

The Portland Mercury, May 15, 2014

Halfway through a three-month contract to clean up illegal homeless camps on city property, local security firm Pacific Patrol Services hasn’t been sent to a single actual campsite.

As of Monday, PPS had only been dispatched once, on April 29, to what city records show was a false alarm. Cops had received a tip someone was camping in a small park in a traffic circle at NE 102nd and Weidler. It looks like this:

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When clean-up staff got to the traffic circle, it only found run-of-the-mill rubbish. “Just empty bottles and food containers,” according to Abby Coppock, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Management and Finance, which oversees the PPS contract. “There was no personal property collected.”

It’s not clear what the city paid for the service, which documents indicate involved an hour of work. Portland’s contract with PPS says the contractor will receive $703.24 per day of work, and does not appear to account for smaller units. (We’re still waiting to hear back on cost).

Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office announced the campsite clean-up contract in early April. The mayor’s office has emphasized enforcement of Portland’s camping ban since last year. But clean-up of those sites fell to city bureaus who owned the land, and they often had more-pressing tasks on their plates. And there wasn’t a formal, centralized system by which rousted campers could retrieve their belongings. Hales’ office says the PPS contract could change that.

But the plan drew concern from some homeless advocates, who fear the city’s homeless are already leery of private security guards that patrol properties throughout downtown. So the city held off on dispatching clean-up contractors until, it says, they’d been properly trained.

Under the contract—which expires in June, and can’t exceed $35,000—PPS will respond to campsites on city land once alerted by a bureau. In order to legally dismantle a site, officials need to post warning at least 24 hours in advance. The clean-up must be completed within seven days of that posting, Gibson said. The city’s goal is within 48 hours.

PPS is also required to document thoroughly all items it confiscates and throws away, and to submit pictures of campsites before cleaning them up. If the site’s resident is on hand, workers must give them an hour to take their possessions before work commences. And PPS will maintain a repository—on a site the city provides—where homeless people can arrange to pick up their belongings.