Taylor Griggs contributed to this story.
This morning, Portland Bureau of Transportation personnel and a Rapid Response Bio Clean crew removed property from a street camp on Southeast Alder near 30th. The location was reported by neighbors due to concerns about the large number of bicycle parts lined up on the sidewalk.
We first learned of this location today when it appeared in a thread posted on the Shift mailing list by people who referred to it as a “bike chop shop” and said that he had been reported to the authorities on several occasions in the past. “Bike inventory changes every few days,” one person wrote.
A local bike shop owner who knows this place well chimed in to say that crews were currently on site and, “This chop shop has more inventory than I do. There is a sign that says “bike shop”. I need a permit for commercial posting. I also need a commercial license.
BikePortland reporter Taylor Griggs arrived at the scene as Rapid Response crew members loaded bikes and parts onto the back of a large flatbed truck. There were no police on the scene, but there were PBOT parking officers monitoring the process. They said Griggs campers were voluntarily giving up their space and belongings and would be offered space in a shelter.
A man introduced himself as the director of the camp. He told Griggs that he wanted to run a bike repair shop for friends and other campers and that the bikes hadn’t been stolen. A lot of people just give away “really nice bikes,” he said. He did not deny that some people steal bicycles. He also said he was happy to speak to anyone who thinks their stolen bike is at camp. If they can prove it’s theirs, he’ll give it back. “Nobody wants to talk to me. They come with leers and mockery,” he said.
Gianna Bortoli, who lives a block from the camp, said she has seen bike numbers skyrocket in recent months and that complete bikes will often be brought to the site and quickly dismantled. “I can’t say if people there steal them or if people drop them off, but I’ve seen some extremely expensive bikes there, including several brand new bikes.”
Allegations of large-scale chop shops in street camps have been around for years. They have always been very difficult for the city to deal with, as there is often no way to prove if they are harboring stolen bikes. In May 2020, the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force (now defunct) made two arrests and recovered 15 stolen bikes from an encampment.
The bicycle is a very common and valuable means of transport for people who live on the streets. They offer people an inexpensive way to get around town to get to jobs and medical appointments, and to connect with friends – all the same things you use your bike for! If you see bikes in the camps, don’t assume the worst. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and these people deserve the same respect you would show anyone else.
The city of Portland was sued last year by homeless residents over the handling of seized property. Yesterday the city adopted new policies to comply with the demands of the lawsuit. Check out this new city website to learn more.