A volunteer helps pack up a tent at City Hall Plaza on Friday as Portland police officers survey the scene from a distance. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Tents, tarps and debris still covered much of City Hall plaza Friday, one day after organizers agreed to wind down a protest encampment of homeless people that began more than two weeks ago to demand better treatment and conditions for the city’s most vulnerable population.

A few people experiencing homelessness stayed the night again Thursday, but by midday Friday several began to pack up their belongings, unsure of where they would go or what they should do. Others stayed throughout the day, dozing off in what little shade they could find, smoking cigarettes and rummaging through coolers for cold water.

The city had not given the campers who remain on the plaza a hard deadline to vacate on Friday, and it continued to assist cleanup efforts by hauling away trash. But it may be only a matter of time before remaining campers are asked to move along.

“I think yes, there will be a date (to vacate), but I don’t know what that is,” said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin.

Mary Thompson folds up a tarp while helping to pack up and take things out from the City Hall encampment on Friday. Thompson said she wasn’t sure where she would be sleeping after leaving the encampment. “It really is sad,” she said. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The sleep-out demonstration lasted 16 days and nights until Thursday, when organizers withdrew from the endeavor, leaving the dozens of homeless people who joined them to find another place to go. Although the coalition of activists was loosely organized to begin with, infighting and a leaderless structure that lacked accountability ultimately led to the dissolution of the demonstration.

The city made official the end of the demonstration in a letter to organizer Jess Falero on Thursday, in which City Manager Jon Jennings acknowledged in writing that the First Amendment action was over, and extended the city’s assistance to move people and belongings off the plaza.

Grondin suggested the city might have to issue another communication about leaving the plaza, but it was unclear who the city would address a directive to now that there appear to be fewer self-identified leaders of the movement.

Although some campers said they were planning to migrate to nearby Lincoln Park, police responded almost immediately when a handful of tents popped up on the grass. Two officers instructed the campers to take down the tents – city ordinance prohibits any structure to be erected on park land without a permit.

As the officers spoke with the group, Police Chief Frank Clark and Maj. Heath Gorham walked by, apparently on their way to City Hall. Clark spoke with some of the activists and homeless youth before he stepped away to call in reinforcements: Oxford Street Shelter Director Sara Fleurant and Social Services Director Aaron Geyer soon arrived, and the pair spent hours in the park offering people a place to stay.

At one point, a man became enraged when police instructed him to take down his tent, and spat at officers and hurled obscenities as he trudged back to City Hall plaza, a pile of his belongings wrapped in a bear hug against his chest. A couple hours later, the man was seated in a camping chair, his tent back up on the hard granite plaza.

Encampment organizer Jess Falero lets volunteers know that city officials have given them until midday Saturday to have everything from the encampment cleaned up. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Fleurant said the city will continue to offer services, although it’s unclear how many have taken her up on it. Although dozens of people have slept outside each night during the encampment protest, city shelters have remained only half full, even with tighter capacity limits brought by the coronavirus, Fleurant said.

Clark said his officers will continue to enforce the city ordinance that effectively bars camping in parks, but he said he was unaware of any deadline to clear the plaza.

Nearby on Chestnut Street, a professional cleaning crew in hazmat suits and respirators spent much of the day sanitizing and disinfecting an alley that had been used as a bathroom by the dozens of people who had no access to clean facilities while they camped on the plaza.

A food distribution tent was all but defunct, with only the barest donations remaining: day-old bagels, apples and oranges and the leftovers of bagged meals delivered by Preble Street Resource Center on Friday morning. A medical services tent was nearly bare, as well, and gone was the wall of clear plastic drawers, each with a neat label, filled with cold medicine, tampons, condoms and a bevy of over-the-counter remedies.

A wellness tent volunteer named Email helps take down the tent alongside other volunteers outside Portland City Hall on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

One onlooker in the plaza was Shad Gagnon, 39, who said he has been homeless off and on since he was 14. Gagnon said he came down to see some of his friends who have been staying at City Hall, but he was shocked that the city had allowed the encampment to go on for so long.

Staff at Preble Street helped him get an apartment four months ago, and Gagnon said he’s thankful he does not have to be around the persistent drug use that has permeated the camp.

“You can’t shut down City Hall, you can’t shut down city parks,” Gagnon said. “These are the rules society has. They’re making it look like a protest, but they’re not addressing it through the proper channels. There comes a point when you have to do something for yourself.”

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