Spotlight on homeless camp near where bus driver was stabbed

PORTLAND, Ore. - The police don't have a solution.

The neighbors don't have a solution.

Even the homeless people who live in a transient camp under I-205 at the SE Foster Road on-ramp don't have a solution.

A TriMet bus driver was stabbed Wednesday afternoon as he was taking a bathroom break near the camp, squaring the spotlight on a little piece of land that has drawn increasing complaints recently.

The bus driver will be OK, police said.

But what's next for the neighborhood?

"You gotta feel for 'em," said Ron Miller, who lives nearby. "But it does bring with it everything that comes with homelessness, and the reasons why they're homeless.

"You see these little homeless camps springing up all over the place and turning into these little Hoovervilles. Maybe we could dedicate some place for some sanitation, some porta-potties, some outreach - we need something. This spontaneous stuff isn't working out."

It's the second time in the last three months a bus driver has been stabbed while taking a bathroom break near the camp. This time, the incident happened at 94th and Foster. On April 20, it was at 92nd and Flavel.

Police said the incidents are not related; the suspect in the April stabbing is black, while the suspect from Wednesday's stabbing is white. Some in the camp told KATU News the police description - a bald-headed white man in his 30s with a checkerboard tattoo on his chest - matched that of a man who stays there, a man they called "Bald-headed Mike."

"I think this guy's gonna be easily identified," said Lt. Tony Silva, who works transit for the Portland Police Bureau.

Police have stepped up security at the layover station where the driver was stabbed. He was driving line 71, which Jerry Senick, who lives in the transient camp with his wife April, said can get a little scary.

"It's such a rough route - (drivers) are getting really angry," he said. "They get harassed a lot."

If the suspect is found, it still doesn't solve the problem posed by the camp, which even some of those who live there say can be problematic depending on who is staying there at the time.

"People get drunk and they do stupid things - this would be a perfect place if you're hiding out or you're camping out to just maybe take advantage of somebody coming out of the MAX or something like that," Senick said.

Still, Senick said he sees the camp as one of the better options available.

"This is the lesser of many evils that could be done," he said. "Going on someone's personal property, being in doorways, being right where people can be affected directly by homelessness.

"Me being homeless is just something that happened. My lack of motivation at one point got myself fired and so I landed here with my wife. You might be incidentally grouping myself and my friends here with a group of people that do plague on society and are basically sociopaths."

That's little comfort to Miller and his neighbors, who are forced to clean up messes left in their yards and deal with panhandlers on the street. It was only a few weeks ago, Miller said, that there was a fire in the neighborhood in a house in which several transients were squatting.

Even more frustrating: Police say they can't do anything about it. Because the camp is under a freeway, they say the Oregon Department of Transportation has to contact them before they can take definitive action. From time to time, the camp will be cleared out, but it's always a temporary fix.

"This requires a very careful approach that considers the significant legal issues and social problems," said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "There are very few easy solutions to this problem."

Hamilton said ODOT will continue to work with the city about the camp.

"They clear 'em out, (the police come), they disappear, but it doesn't take long before they establish another camp," Miller said. "They come right back. If there was an alternative - I don't know. They clear 'em out, and it takes about a day and they're back."

The Senicks said they're not happy to be in the camp - in fact, they planned to clear out Wednesday night - but said there are few alternatives for the homeless, especially those who are married.

"You can't take everybody that's homeless and lump them into one category," April Senick said. "(You shouldn't think) 'All homeless people are going to go stab somebody, all homeless people are going to go steal something, we gotta get rid of these people.' We're not all bad people. We're not associated with anybody who would do something like that."