A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Rocks in a hard place: No more camping

Written October 24th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

A field of boulders now reinforces the message on the sign: No camping under the Pacific Boulevard viaduct.

Some 522 tons of rocks and boulders have put a stop — for now at least — to a longstanding problem: Squatters camping under the Pacific Boulevard viaduct in Albany where Jackson Street and Seventh Avenue meet.

Someone pictured the rocks on Facebook, and a bike ride this afternoon took me past the place to see for myself.

This used to be a frequent hangout for apparently homeless people who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to the nearby shelters, Helping Hands just around the corner and Signs of Victory a couple blocks down Jackson Street.

So what about those rocks? Assuming that either ODOT or the city of Albany had placed them there, I asked Marilyn Smith, the city’s public information officer, what she knew about it. Turns out she knew everything about this project and how it came about.

“City staff first started talking about it in June as an option to fencing for dealing with ongoing complaints of illegal camping and litter under the overpass,” her report began. “It had become one of the spots in Albany where homeless campers come and go and leave trash behind, often hazardous trash, and we repeatedly have to clean up at public expense.”

Kris Schendel, an employee of the police deparrment who serves as a code compliance officer, proposed the boulder field, and City Manager Peter Troedsson authorized it. The area under the viaduct is part of the state highway right of way, and the city got ODOT to approve the project. ODOT also specified the type, size and quantity of rock that have proved best, based on experience elsewhere.

Albany bought the rock from Knife River in Tangent. The company delivered 521.93 tons of rocks. (Leave it to Marilyn to know this to the second decimal!)  City crews put the material in place on Oct. 15 and 16.

A few days before, the city’s Solutions Team had gone to the place and talked with three or four people there, giving each a list of resources and directing them to a shelter or other services. (The team has been working to help get the homeless off the street and into better situations. It has members of the city police, county mental health, Samaritan Health Services, and CHANCE, and a paramedic.)

The rocks cost the city $16,781.

This boulder field is hard to miss. But as Marilyn Smith points out, city crews clean up homeless camps in less visible places all the time. (hh)

Let’s hope the blanket lying on the rocks doesn’t mean someone tried to sleep there.

27 responses to “Rocks in a hard place: No more camping”

  1. J. Jacobson says:

    Everybody must get stoned…

  2. Steve says:

    Give them a week they will have cardboard base

  3. Craigz says:

    It is NOT “camping”. It is criminal trespass, littering and other criminal violations. Camping is when you pitch a tent or RV for recreational-vacation purposes. Some want to say this is a housing problem…while repeated studies show it is a mental health and addiction problem. In the meantime, our cities should not be places where people can pitch a tent and destroy the city scape.

  4. Melody Ross says:

    I don’t know what the solution for homelessness is, but I do know that it’s super sad. People can judge those who live like this all they want but the fact remains that we have an abundance of mental health and addiction issues going largely untreated. Many who live like this have no motivation nor hope. It’s just sad all the way around. I have opened my home to 3 people whom I trust enough to try to help get them off the street. One is mentally ill and has enough money to pay a monthly rent but was unable to facilitate the steps needed to make it happen without step by step help. The others, a couple with a new baby, are recovering meth addicts that probably struggle daily to stay clean in my “no tolerance” home, but because they had nowhere else to go I have rented them a room to call their own and to give them a foundation to start from. So far so good. I really hate the stigma homeless people struggle with. It is something nobody has an answer for and it breaks my heart.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      I am grateful to you for this thoughtful response, and for what you’ve done to make life easier for the people you mention.

    • Ben Heyden says:

      Neither do I judge those who “live rough” because of mental illness, drug addition, or both.

      I judge those we place in positions of duty who shirk that duty and do not address these issues of personal and public health and safety. Would that we would wrest that control from those profligate bureaucracies — but they hold tightly to their perks while ignoring their responsibilities.

      In this case, well done! One public office in Albany did what they could. Would that the rest of Albany (and in my town) do likewise.

      • Mike Sigman says:

        I’ve been to “homeless” meetings in the Bay Area where they get together and trade information about how to continue fooling people that they have mental problems. Of course there are some people who legitimately have mental problems (but did they get them because they’ve been doing drugs and alcohol since Middle School?), but don’t kid yourself about the “oh, these poor people have mental problems” being as big as you think it is. A lot of them are playing Joe Public for chumps.

    • Denver says:

      a free country is loathe to legally force people into mental health wards. Some call it akin to slavery.

  5. schmuck281 says:

    I must take umbrage with this. I reserved this location (Well, actually the other side where Jackson St goes under. But still..) as my retirement home when I was only 10 years old. That was 60 years ago. I believe that my claim predates most of the others.

    • centrist says:

      you might want to reconsider your nom d’plume
      Schmuck has many derived meanings, many pointing to “useless.” The term once described the foreskin of the male member. The tissue was indeed useless, whether left intact or (certainly) after excision

  6. Deanna says:

    God forbid something as trivial as the cityscape is destroyed by some people under a bridge sleeping outside in the freezing cold, being gang raped, robbed, beaten for sport as the public attitude spreads violent scorn on human beings who surely daydreams as children of never having one single solitary place to enter into an indoor space, to grab a moment of true privacy, to sit & simply “be” in private… To have no toilet to use, no shower or even the human dignity of a sink. To NEVER have an enclosed indoor space in which they can relax & not wait out the nervous moment’s until the police are summons to sweep out the plague before they begin to feel relaxed, welcomed, cared about, like one of us worthy humans. We can not allow that confusion to seep into the worthless scrums “minds”. No, we must remain united as a titanium razor wire fence around “our” cities, our public bathrooms, ours… regardless. We must also keep in mind how important it is to have our children stand in witness whenever possible so they to May join in our protection of “ours”, & if we are lucky we will manage to drive all last vestiges of human dignity out of these worthless creatures, & they will do our work for is, & end in suicide. I say good riddance to bad rubbish. I know that is exactly as Jesus Christ would feel. After all, “we” we’re created in our Gods image…. Not “they”.

    • jack burton says:

      Okay, Deana, way to totally ignore the several homeless shelters within walking distance of this place. Good job of virtue signaling about how caring you are

    • Doubting Rich says:

      What have you done top help them? Or are you just virtue signaling?

    • James says:

      Do tell, Deanna. What are you personally sacrificing to help these people? Do you understand that simply advocating that some one else do something to help them is not proof that you care or proof of moral superiority? Do you understand that well over half of the people living like this would find a way to be functioning, self supporting, law abiding, tax paying citizens if the government would simply enforce laws against public defecation, public intoxication, public drug use, and public camping.
      Of course, that solution wouldn’t the people of your ilk the dopamine hit that your parroting of your smug rhetoric gives you. But I sort of think that the welfare of the people living like that is more important than you feeling morally superior to the people you disagree with.

  7. Jim Engel says:

    O.K. Deanna, do as Ms Ross has done. Put’em up at your place! Don’t shame me with a guilt trip because I’ve worked my butt for 65 years to have what I have & am not likely to share. I like my whisky to but not to the point it rules me. Far too many handouts, hand-ups & general let “them” slide along. Oregon didn’t do us any help by closing the State hospital & throwing “them” onto communities.

  8. Larry says:

    See also https://www.city-journal.org/reducing-street-homelessness-burien-washington
    Note, the shelter beds were open, but only 6 took advantage of them, the remainder of the 50-100 homeless did not. You want these people off the street, you’re going to have to stomach involuntary incarceration.

  9. Barry says:

    This would never happen in Portland. Thank your City for actually doing what is best for the homeless.

  10. Somebody Fedup says:

    Can we thank the ACLU for their work in closing the mental health centers where we used to treat such people?

  11. Craig says:

    We have to allow homelessness it is a respite for some people, necessary to survive. I once gave away all of my worldly possessions to learn the simple truth. I also respected as best as possible civility, in that I bedded out of sight, usually in the green zones that most urban and suburbanites hardly could command the consciousness to see. I came back , because I was called back through contemplative meditation of my dreams. It is true that nearly every homeless person is conflicted with mental health and addiction problems. Without outright begging, over the course of many years, I received a total of five handouts; i.e. breakfast at BK, a five and bag of dog food for my companion, two dollars, a meal, and a twenty from a trucker. This was twent years ago though I remember each passage. I also remember all those mechanical clicks of the car doors being locked at intersections I was standing at, awaiting to cross. The good Lord is in our consciousness at every moment. Sometimes charity is not the answer, sometimes it is. If the homeless in your community disappeared to the hobo jungles, then we would forget. They are a constant and often painful reminder of our lack of dignity, and our good fortune. to quote Gary Snyder;
    “No Matter, Never Mind

    The Father is the Void
    The Wife Waves

    Their child is Matter.

    Matter makes it with his mother
    And their child is Life,
    a daughter.

    The Daughter is the Great Mother
    Who, with her father/brother Matter
    as her lover,

    Gives birth to the Mind.”

    Gary Snyder
    Turtle Island

  12. InfidelAvenger says:

    Having been homeless myself on and off between 2009-2011, I can tell you firsthand that far too many of these “campers” choose street life, as desperate and self-defeating as it is. I have since found employment in my field and spent years traveling the country as an electronic engineering technician and even spent a year working on NASA space flight equipment in Clearwater, FL. Yet I return home seven years later, and the same people I shared shelters with are still homeless. They waste their days hanging out in the local library locked into their iPhones like zombies and in and out of soup kitchens and shelters.From my observations and interactions with them, they want no responsibility in life at all. Many are hardcore alcoholics and drug addicts and have no desire to change. Someone in an earlier comment mentioned involuntary incarceration. I wouldn’t go that far, but maybe the revival and enforcement of vagrancy laws might be a good first step.

  13. mhj says:

    So, ODOT has experience doing this elsewhere, and they can recommend just the right types of rocks?
    Who knew? Where is elsewhere? Juts curious…


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