We mostly agree to requests from the media under the stipulation that no one owns a copyright on the finished product. Here are some of the ones were proud of.
A street roots reporter asked to visit and interview about the Fallout Camp Project. It came out mostly okay however some things were omitted which we felt to be important.
look inside the anarchist city on Portland’s Kelly Butte
PDX Houseless Radicals Collective has made the isolated park home base in its fight to address houseless issuesby Henry Brannan | 14 Jul 2021
What can houseless people do to fight back and better their own lives? Because no one else is going to do it for us.” Those were the words that started PDX Houseless Radicals Collective, according to Jean-Jacques Michell, a founding member.
Michell told Street Roots the collective considered other areas where they could be useful as the nightly protests of the George Floyd uprising tapered off earlier this year, finally looking inward to their own experiences.
“I’ve been houseless most of my adult life. I also went to college for social work and I worked in the homeless youth system for a while, so I’ve seen both sides of it,” said Michell, who is non-binary and uses “they” pronouns. “So I gave up my place and started talking to people, and it’s just kind of grown.”
Months later, the collective has about 30 members, with 10 to 12 living in a secluded camp under the Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples of Southeast Portland’s Kelly Butte Natural Area.
The mission statement posted on the group’s website describes it as a leaderless, leftist collective of anti-fascists standing in solidarity with people worldwide in the fight for equality, social justice, green initiatives, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism and returning land to Indigenous populations, commonly referred to as the “land back” movement. Ultimately, the group advocates for a socialist society without rulers, classes or borders.
A steady stream of supporters and volunteers drop off supplies and help with camp projects between conversations on politics and current events. Anarchism is the most prevalent ideology in the camp, and is reflected in its black and red banner and HRC logo.
STREET ROOTS NEWS: Portland’s anarchist heritage: A primer on a misunderstood movement
“This is basically unused land, so I don’t see why there would be an issue with someone using it to shelter people that need to be sheltered,” said Michell, noting that since local homeowners want them out of sight, this should be an agreeable arrangement for all parties.
Beyond avoiding the ire of nearby homeowners, and with the city’s contentious and contested sweep efforts at Laurelhurst Park fresh on members’ minds, the location was also a defensive choice. Houseless people and their allies often prevented or postponed sweeps at Laurelhurst, but it was “only a winnable position because it’s gotten publicity so far,” Michell said.
“I don’t think that that’s winnable in the long term,” Michell expanded. “Eventually, Ted (Wheeler) is gonna get tired of that and he’s gonna send riot cops in, and then that’s gonna be that.”
The isolation of the 23-acre park also keeps the campers away from anti-houseless vigilante violence.
“Some of my friends have literally just popped up dead in downtown,” said Alex, a young member of the collective who joined with their partner looking for safety, community and mutual aid outreach. “Their tents get burned or things get stolen … tents get slashed by knives.”
The members vary in age, background and specific political ideology, but they are united in a dedication to realizing their values through everyday actions. This is primarily expressed through a mixture of mutual aid and militant sweep defense work.
“We go out a couple times a week, doing needle exchange and pass out supplies and stuff to people,” said a camp member who goes by the name Kracken, who said they had been on and off the streets for much of their life.
The collective passes out camping supplies and other “basic needs stuff,” Michell said, adding that while everything must be purchased or donated because we live in a “capital-based system,” the collective is “trying to show that there’s another way, that doesn’t involve capital” quite so much.
Michell said the collective posted fliers with their contact information to help organize a defense for anyone who gets posted for sweeps. Michell said they’ve also held self-defense trainings with other camps to address vigilante violence.
The collective emphasizes coming to other houseless people as peers and not being affiliated with a religious organization or nonprofits, many of which are seen by the group as acting with self-interest and have ties to city officials and police.
“One of the reasons why I chose to make this a houseless collective, rather than just a collective helping houseless people, was I felt that it would be an advantage to be able to show up to a camp that needs assistance and pitch a tent,” Michell said. “Things like mutual aid are proof and practice and concept that there’s another way to do things, by people supporting each other.”
Entering other camps to offer support, they often tell camp residents, ‘We’re not social workers and we’re not with the government, but we have stuff, and it’s free.’ Michell said the common refrain within the group started as a joke.
Since Street Roots first talked to Michell, they’ve publicly announced they are stepping back from a leadership role with the group due to a life-threatening illness, though they remain a resident at Kelly Butte.
Another member of the group who goes by the name Fantasmo said he found community despite coming from a very different background – studying philosophy in college. He wanted to put the theories he was reading about into practice.
“I don’t think I can rebel against the system by remaining a part of it,” he said. “I want to go all the way and I want to join in. The only way to really join in the class struggle is to join the class who’s doing the struggle.”
Portland’s Park Rangers have asked the campers to leave — a request which they firmly denied — opening the possibility of a forced removal by the city. In a statement to Street Roots, spokesman Tim Collier of Portland Parks and Recreation, the agency that is responsible for maintaining the natural areas portion of Kelly Butte, wrote the agency must follow Title 20, which prohibits erecting structures, permanent or temporary, in public parks. Any intervention at the site would be conducted by the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction program, and people who do not voluntarily comply with park rules can be excluded from the park.
Collier’s statement noted the agency is concerned about Portlanders living outdoors in and around Kelly Butte Natural Area, acknowledging that the national housing crisis, exacerbated by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to increase the number of people experiencing homelessness in Portland.
“PP&R recognizes that there is a clear intersection between the land which the bureau is responsible for maintaining and our national housing crisis,” a spokesperson told Street Roots in an email. “The current relationship is a balance between harm reduction, and the safety of campers and the community related to things like wildfire risk, hazardous materials, etc.”
Though they refuse to leave, out of concern for the camp’s sustainability, collective members say they have worked to keep the camp’s environmental impact minimal through the use of chemical toilets, which are professionally serviced regularly, and frequent trash pickup. In adherence to COVID-19 safety protocol, they have spaced the camp’s tents at least 6 feet apart.
While the threat of a sweep remains ever-present, the campers are playing the long game.
“My long-term vision is that there will be more sustainable places outside of society, where people who want to desert the system can go and live apart from the system,” said Fantasmo.