Everybody’s moving to Oregon, but not all transplants can afford a home. This is a trend already seen with the resident population. A federally mandated 2017 Multnomah County point-in-time survey has revealed that in the last two years, homelessness has increased in Portland by 6 percent.
This isn’t news for businesses strewn across Northeast Marx Street from 105th to 112th avenues. Business owners have demonstrated mixed reactions to a makeshift RV encampment made up of homeless folk for the past six months. Some have found the abrupt turnaround in the area unsettling.
“It started out with one guy in a van, and it ended up getting to be two, and then three and four,” explains Kim Knoernschild, co-owner of Admirable Landscapes at 11004 N.E. Marx St., who watched as the RV encampment quickly developed. “It kept growing, and it grew so much that we became concerned. There were needles being found [and] evidence some of them were coming on our property at night, even though we have a fence and a dog.”
Knoernschild claims that police informed her and her husband—co-owner of Admirable Landscapes and seasoned horticulturalist John Knoernschild—that they had their hands tied. Some of the encampment’s territory is located on a city-owned easement, which means the homeless population can technically hang out with little police intervention.
Tow companies refrained from removing any of the vehicles, seeing as their owners couldn’t afford to reclaim them from the tow yard. Police wouldn’t know where to relocate the RVs even if they had to.
But some of the encampment debris was more ominous. Business owners complained about scattered needles, as well as breaches of private property, for some time, only to receive shrugs from both the city and police officers, who suggested acquiring dogs and advised against guns—until August.
“They have put signs up and down the streets from 105th to 112th saying there’s no parking there between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., but it’s just moved those people down the street, so now they’re by 112th to 122nd,” explains Knoernschild.
The Knoernschilds, according to John, have been robbed three times at their Northeast Marx location. At one point, a thief ran right past Kim and pushed her out of the way. However, they aren’t positive that the thieves were homeless. Besides that, John is sympathetic to the RV camp because of his own history with houselessness.
“I’ve been homeless, and I know what it’s like,” he says. “I have an idea of how homeless people feel. I’m respectful of both parties. We know people come on our property; we just want respectful protocol. You should have protection [to coexist], but then you know, what if my dog bites you? What then?”
If you ask the homeless population for their stories, you might stumble upon some compassion, too. A homeless couple, Amanda Snow and Ray Pitzer, who have taken up residence on Marx Street between Northeast 112th and 113th avenues would argue that the police have, in fact, been involved.
“We had a tight-knit community,” Pitzer, a transplant from Georgia, said, noting that the couple had been living around Northeast 14th Avenue and Columbia Boulevard. “The businesses around there had no problem with us, but the police started coming around and hassling us, then installed No Parking signs. That’s why we had to come here.”
Snow, a local, is seven months pregnant; it will be her sixth child. “I’m trying to get my other ones back. We’re trying to get off the streets, but it isn’t easy.”
The couple has been homeless for two years.
The point-in-time survey asks the homeless population questions about their age, race and gender and where they slept the previous night, as well as questions to gauge how long they’ve been homeless in the past four years.
While the Knoernschilds are ultimately relieved that city officials have potentially made their streets safer, John Knoernschild believes the Northeast Marx community—and the city—should be investigating the origins of the RV encampment further.
“Where are the homeless people coming from? Are they coming from out of state? Is rent too high? You hear different stories from everyone. I employ many contracted people who have been, at some point, homeless. What is it like to be homeless and run a business?” Knoernschild adds.
Knoernschild adds that, despite the parking signs that have seemingly muddled most of the Marx RV encampment, there are still some vans at the intersection of Northeast Marx and 117th Avenue.
“If a crime occurs, you have to report it, but just because somebody is camped out there doesn’t mean that anybody is causing any havoc.”
For John Knoernschild, the homeless population are innocent until proven guilty—and they don’t have to be a problem unless they create a problem.