Downtown Tigard the epicenter of local homelessness

A homeless person sleeps in a downtown Tigard parking lot.
A homeless person sleeps in a downtown Tigard parking lot on a recent sunny morning. Increasing complaints related to homelessness have caused the city of Tigard to re-form a homelessness task force and even consider a new city ordinance that, if passed, would require overnight campers on public property to move during the day. Contributed Photo

Police report spike in downtown complaints, calls for service 

Many people traditionally move to the suburbs to get away from so-called big-city problems such as crime, overcrowding, drugs, and homelessness. 

But with the ongoing affordable housing crisis and the economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of letting up, those same problems are now ever-present in Tigard and other Portland metro area towns and cities. 

This is particularly the case with homelessness, which is now being seen at unprecedented levels in Tigard and other cities in Washington County. In response the county is standing up several new programs aimed at addressing the issue, while the Tigard City Council has now formally moved to reconvene its homelessness task force. 

Homeless individual sleeping in front of public restroom.
A homeless individual is seen here sleeping in front of public restrooms in downtown Tigard. Some downtown business owners are reporting a huge increase in antisocial behavior such as theft and vandalism, public drug use and public defecation in recent months that they attribute to the homeless. Contributed Photo

Nowhere in Tigard is the issue more apparent than in the downtown business district. There, business owners and residents alike are reporting a wave of theft, drug use and quality of life issues related to homeless individuals and encampments. 

“There are a lot of concerns about homeless individuals, houseless individuals, and folks with apparent mental health concerns and substance use issues, primarily from businesses, but also from residents downtown,” Mayor Jason Snider said at the Aug. 10 Tigard City Council meeting. “We need to escalate the speed at which we’re responding and maybe have a short-term plan that becomes the focus to try and address those concerns in a compassionate way but making sure we’re maintaining the livability and vitality of downtown.” 

Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine backed up anecdotal accounts with police numbers that show at least 65 percent of calls for service in 2021 involve behavioral health issues, including mental health crises, houselessness or substance use disorders. In July, she said, at least 31 calls for priority one or two – immediate or emerging – calls for service were received from the downtown corridor. 300 additional lower priority calls were received during that time, she added.

The impact downtown is being felt most acutely by business owners in that area. 

One food services business owner reported they have had repeated episodes of vandalism from apparently drug-addicted or mentally ill individuals who have come into their premises, while another retail establishment on Main Street is now forced to remove used hypodermic needles, garbage, and other debris from their property on almost a daily basis. 

“It is a homeless issue to a certain degree,” said the Main Street retail business owner who asked not to be named for fear of being vandalized. “But it’s a bigger drug issue and a criminal issue. It’s horrible and getting worse.” 

The retail owner said he has personally witnessed apparently homeless individuals urinating or defecating on or near downtown buildings, and also noted that derelict RVs are now showing up in the area as well. He also noted they have been in regular contact with police and city officials about the issue, but little has been done to resolve the problems. 

McAlpine said at the Aug. 24 council meeting that while some business owners are asking for an enforcement approach, others are not. 

“There are many who believe fundamentally that police should not be interacting with our unhoused individuals in an enforcement effort,” she said. 

In response to the increasing litany of complaints, the City Council voted 5-0 at its Aug. 24 meeting to stand up the Community Homelessness Assessment and Response Team, which will have members from the Tigard Police and other city departments, the Downtown Tigard Association, Tigard Chamber and other groups. This city plans to use this mechanism to begin assessing conditions in the downtown core, talk with business owners and residents and make additional recommendations for action to the city council. 

In addition, the city will now begin more closely tracking incidents involving homeless individuals and will continue to support local nonprofit groups that work with homeless individuals. Councilors also said they will explore enacting a city ordinance requiring overnight campers on public property to move during daytime business hours. 

Tent at library.
Homeless individuals temporarily stored their belongings under a tarp in front of the Tigard Public Library. Homelessness has caused a large increase in complaints to the city’s police department in recent months. In response the city is re-forming a homelessness task force to assess the situation, talk with local business owners and residents and recommend further actions. Contributed Photo

Councilor John Goodhouse noted, however, that what is conspicuously lacking from these actions and recommendations are concrete plans to help downtown business owners who are currently using their own resources to clean up feces, needles, and trash, as well as deal with vandalism and theft. 

“With this it just seems to be very one-sided,” he said. “We need to take care of those that don’t have homes, but there is also the other part of the community that is also getting really anxious and starting to get upset for a lot of things that aren’t being taken care of as far as their needs.”

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Josh Kulla is a writer and photographer with experience reporting on city, county and state government, as well as photographing news, sports and events, across the Portland metropolitan area. In his spare time, he can be found photographing Northwest landscapes. He can be reached at josh@tigardlife.com.