PDX Dispatch April 27: Pirates of Portland

From Portland’s ABC affiliate KATU:

PORTLAND, Ore. — Just past the “Entering Oregon” sign on the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River is one of the first things people see, and it is not a very pleasant welcome to Oregon.

At the base of the Interstate Bridge on Hayden Island are two old military vessels — the Alert and the Sakarissa. Ownership issues have left the ships vulnerable. Within the past year both have been boarded, damaged and tagged by people living in a growing homeless camp on the shore next to the ships.

“You can kind of see the progress over the months. They’ve been completely vandalized. They’ve now been broken into. I can only imagine what has been taken and stolen from the insides,” said Sgt. Steve Dangler of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s River Patrol Unit.

His regular beat includes monitoring the vessels and the camp near them.

“Unfortunately, what we end up finding is a lot of debris in the water. We have drug use that occurs. We’ve actually had one drowning out here,” Dangler said.

Right after giving KATU News a tour of the problem, Dangler and his partner returned to the camp and found a stolen sailboat and a 15-year-old runaway.

Hayden Island residents and business owners have a name for the thieves.

“The Pirates of the Columbia,” said Carol Kersley whose boat was stolen, “because they steal anything that’s not nailed down.”

Coincidentally days before this article appeared I had a conversation with a friend who used to live aboard a boat near the above-described pirate’s cove. I remarked how bands of homeless sometimes resemble nomadic groups from the long past, with their improvised attire like animal skins and weapons strapped to their sides.

“No kidding. When I lived on the boat there were pirates. I mean, they looked like real pirates. I watched this guy steal two kayaks, very nice, expensive. He comes along rowing one and towing the other and uses our dock to climb out of the water.”

He laughs.

“I swear to God it was like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. His face even: he’s got everything but the eye patch and knife between his teeth. His pants are stuffed into his boots and he’s got a massive Bowie knife strapped to his side. I watch him as he takes these expensive new kayaks and drags them up the rock bank–ruining them instantly–to wherever he’s going.”

What we have going on here in Portland, unappreciated, is a grand experiment demonstrating the effects of individual de-socialization on a mass scale. Our feral people are sorting themselves out spontaneously, developing sub-groups and cultures of their own in a natural process that plays out perversely under the influence of drugs in a “normal” world that is less normal every day.

The homeless are increasingly disconnected from us but not blind–they see the working world (which they reject or feel rejected them) failing, they see its confidence faltering, they see its most despised or troublesome aspects–for them–such as law and order, receding. Their contempt for us is palpable and maybe a little deserved.

And the Portland Lab is just getting started with this fascinating study.

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