Portland officials are tired of dealing with crime in the transient campsite known as Tillamook Caves, a stretch beneath North Interstate Avenue that has become a symbol of the city's frustrating struggle against homelessness.
Their answer is a fence that will stand 10 feet tall and stretch more than 2 football fields across. Chicken wire at the top and the bottom will prevent people from climbing over or digging under.
Police said the campsite east of the Willamette River needs to be closed because it has become a den of drug use, with graffiti and theft spilling into a nearby business district.
Advocates for the homeless say conditions at the campsite are deplorable, but the caves give transient men and women a place to go at a time when business owners want them off the streets.
"From a crime prevention perspective, (the fence) is practical. But from a human perspective, there should be some sort of middle ground," said Israel Bayer, director of the newspaper Street Roots. "I'm not advocating for those kinds of living conditions. But there are fewer and fewer places for people to find refuge that are dry and out of the way."
People have been camping in the Tillamook Caves for quite some time, but police say problems have worsened in the past three years.
City workers responsible for checking the stability of Interstate Avenue called police last year because they were afraid to enter the caves without protection.
When officers went in, they found from 30 to 40 people living in makeshift campsites. Squatters used old cardboard to separate their homes and plastic buckets for toilets. Inmate workers who cleaned out the area last spring carted off two Dumpsters full of trash and a 5-gallon bucket of syringes.
"Yeah, these people are homeless. But they're drug addicts first," said Portland police Lt. Robert Day. "These are not the people trying to get services. They're not the ones waiting for shelter space downtown. They have chosen to be out here under these conditions for a reason."
Day acknowledges that the people who do call Tillamook Caves home will need to find a new place to live, and he's unsure where that will be.
"Maybe they're going to find another spot that's just as concealed five or six blocks away. Maybe, just maybe, this will spur someone to get treatment."
--The Associated Press