Special Report: Homeless Camp Costs

Last year, the Oregon Department of Transportation alone spent an estimated $1.8 million of taxpayer money cleaning up illegal homeless camps around the state.

Posted: Nov 15, 2018 7:37 PM
Updated: May 3, 2021 12:34 PM

OREGON -- When homeless people move on from an illegal camp, someone has to clean up the trash left behind, and it’s costing taxpayers money.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Transportation alone spent an estimated $1.8 million of taxpayer money cleaning up illegal homeless camps around the state.

And the homeless crisis continues in our area, with camp after camp popping up. On Wednesday, Eugene police cleared out a camp on the Butterfly Lot in downtown Eugene.

RELATED: Lane County closes Butterfly Lot, removes homeless campers

Officials with ODOT and the city of Eugene said it’s necessary to clean camps to make sure drivers and those camping near roads stay safe.

ODOT spokesperson Angela Beers-Seydel said homeless camps near the river can also be dangerous for campers as the water rises.

She said it can also pose environmental hazards if trash gets into the water.

In our part of the state, ODOT spent $226,000 last year cleaning up camps. So far this year, they’ve already spent nearly double -- $425,000.

“Money is a huge resource, but purely the time -- the time it takes is a huge resource as well,” Beers-Seydel said.

Beers-Seydel said ODOT doesn’t have that many people out on the roads, so when they do have to clean up these sites, it takes them away from other projects.

“We’d rather be doing something else with that time and money,” Beers-Seydel said.

Officials said a bike path along Willamette River is one location they frequently have to clean up. Whether it’s because of smaller objects left behind or bigger campsites, they said every time they clean it up, it costs them more time, money and resources.

Beers-Seydel said crews just cleaned up that area a month ago, but when KEZI 9 News reporter Jessica Babb went to the site Nov. 1, the campers and the trash were back.

It’s not just ODOT that’s facing the costs of homeless camp cleanups.

Since the start of 2017, Lane County has spent $31,000.

The city of Roseburg has spent over $8,600 cleaning up camps since August 2017.

Some cities along I-5 have spent a whole lot more.

From Jan. 1, 2017, to now, Springfield has spent an estimated $41,000.

The city of Corvallis estimates they’ve spent $174,000 in that same time frame. Corvallis’ estimate includes cleanup costs for all illegal camping and is not limited to just illegal homeless camps.

The biggest spender was the city of Eugene, coming in at $789,000 since Jan. 1, 2017.
“We have seen an increase in the number of homeless camps we’ve responded to over the last few years,” said Brian Richardson with the city of Eugene.

Richardson said with limited resources they’ve had to temporarily stop certain projects to clean up the camps.

“We’re doing the best to work with the resources of what we have here,” Richardson said.

Lane County residents have mixed feelings about the homeless camp cleanups.

“It's a lot of money, and it's a shame we are having to pay that much out. The money could be used in other places, but yet you can't be walking around in a dump," Robert Zumwalt said.

Shar Dubois and Judie Borg said they notice the trash every time they go for a walk. To do their part, they help pick up what they can week after week.

“I realize that people that are homeless don't have a place to put their trash,” Dubois said. “So someone has to pick it up. If tax payers are footing the bill, I'm okay with that."

There are some campers that do their part as well.

KEZI 9 News spoke with one homeless man who didn’t want to go on camera but said he makes a point to pick up his trash every time he moves. He said he just wants to keep it clean for everyone.

But that’s not the case everywhere, and not everyone does. And as long as there’s trash left behind, you can expect your taxpayer money to be spent cleaning them up.

ODOT and many of the cities KEZI 9 News spoke with said when they do have to clean up the camps, they work with community organizations to help provide campers with the services they need to connect them with more long-term solutions.

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