An employee of the 24-hour Senvoy courier company heard two shots followed by screams early Wednesday and called 9-1-1, bringing Portland police to Southeast Belmont Street below the Morrison Bridge, where two homeless men were shot while they lay sleeping.
One man was struck in the chest and the other grazed by a bullet in a pre-dawn drive-by shooting that police suspect was random. It sent fear through other homeless people living on the city’s streets and stunned homeless advocates, city officials and even police.
“It’s straight-up ridiculous,” said William Creed, 36. “It’s way too close to home.”
Home for Creed is a slab of sidewalk below the Hawthorne Bridge, three blocks away, where he spent the night and often finds shelter from the rain.
“It’s got me scared. I really don’t need this now,” said Karen Creed, 49, who has been living on the streets on and off since 2007 and camps with William below the Hawthorne Bridge to stay dry. “I hope it’s not a gang initiation thing or some psycho out there trying to kill homeless people.”
Central Precinct officers responded to the 5:12 a.m. call. One of the victims was in his late 50s; the other in his early 40s. Police found the two men bedded down on the south sidewalk of Southeast Belmont Street, between First and Second Avenues, east of the railroad tracks. The two were taken to a local hospital. The man shot in the chest was in critical condition but expected to survive.
Flat sheets of cardboard remained on the sidewalk later, marking the dry spot where the homeless men slept. Forensic criminalists searched for evidence and took photos.
“An individual fired two rounds striking two men who were asleep,” said Lt. Robert King, Portland police spokesman. “They’re in their bedrolls and they’re literally sleeping. It really is awful and shocking.”
Police described a suspect vehicle as a four-door, black, newer model pickup without a canopy.
Police, city officials and homeless advocates expressed outrage.
“That is beyond anything I have heard happening in Portland before,” said Marc Jolin, executive director of JOIN, a nonprofit that works with the homeless. “It’s unbelievable that someone would do something like this.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees housing in the city, said homeless people are particularly vulnerable to violence. A city count on Jan. 26, 2011, found 1,718 people sleeping outside, in a vehicle or an abandoned building in Portland.
“I condemn the perpetrator of this ugly act of violence,” Fish said. “This shameful act reminds us that everyone in our community deserves a safe and decent place to call home.”
Celia Soltero, an employee of the Senvoy courier company, said she usually saw the two homeless men around 7:30 each morning on her way into the company’s warehouse, which backs up to Southeast Belmont Street. One was usually still asleep, while the other often was packing his blankets, sleeping bag, tarp and belongings into a shopping cart, Soltero said. She noticed they had slept in the same spot for about two months.
“They minded their own business,” Soltero said. She said she would usually nod hello or wave and say “Hi.”
“It’s horrible. It’s definitely eye-opening,” Soltero said of the shooting. “It never seemed very dangerous here. I guess I should be more careful.”
Later Wednesday, officers questioned homeless people who were sleeping beneath the Hawthorne Bridge. The Creeds said two officers came by their camp Wednesday morning asking whether they had heard anything and they also took names of everyone sleeping outside. Police cautioned them to be alert and watch out for each other, Karen Creed said.
The shooting marked the second in three days in inner Southeast Portland. Sunday a bouncer was fatally shot in front of a nightclub on Southeast Morrison Street. No arrests have been made.
Later Wednesday, four homeless men remained camped below the Morrison Bridge, closer to Southeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Workers in the industrial neighborhood said they commonly see homeless people seeking shelter beneath the bridge and under loading docks’ awnings.
“You got to be crazy to start shooting someone sleeping,” said Ed Wilson, who works for Airefco Inc., which backs up to Belmont Street.
Thurston Holmes, who works for City Liquidators, watched as police photographed the crime scene and took measurements below the Morrison Bridge.
“It’s the only shelter in the area from the rain,” he said. “That’s sad.”
Oregonian Staff Writer Noelle Crombie contributed to this story.
Read: Portland Mercury: Drive-By Shooting Injures Two Homeless Men Sleeping Under Morrison Bridge
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Read and Watch: KATU TV: Two homeless men shot in ‘drive-by’ under Morrison Bridge
Read and Watch: KPTV TV: Homeless men shot while sleeping under Morrison Bridge
Read: Rev. Chuck Currie: Statement On Ash Wednesday Shootings Of Homeless Portlanders