‘Anarchists’ release Belmont Goats in protest of homeless sweeps
Feb. 8, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 8, 2023 at 7:20 p.m.
Portland’s famed Belmont Goats were temporarily set free early Tuesday morning in what appeared to be an act of protest against a planned sweep of a nearby homeless encampment.
Robin Casey, co-owner of the Belmont Goats, said she discovered Tuesday morning that the goats’ fence had been cut and found a note rolled up inside the fence.
“In what reality is the comfort of five goats valued over the shelter of more than fifteen people,” said the letter, signed by “some anarchists. So, it’s time for the Belmont Goats to enjoy a little walk in the park.”
Casey said all the escaped goats have been retrieved and appear to be healthy.
The nonprofit-funded goats currently live in a fenced area near Peninsula Crossing Trail in North Portland. The land is owned by the Portland Housing Bureau. When the city announced a year ago plans to construct a tiny home village at that location at 6631 N. Syracuse St., they agreed to help relocate the goats just south of that spot.
The new site planned for the Belmont Goats is located where more than a dozen people currently are living unsheltered. The city has informed residents that it will conduct a sweep of the encampment.
“People don’t know where to go. People are desperate. Sweeps are a cruel, inhuman and murderous way for the city to push people around,” the letter said. “To kick the can down the road and avoid addressing the real issues, which are the astronomical rise in the cost of housing.”
The city has been providing outreach to the encampment residents for about six months, at least twice a month, said Cody Bowman, spokesperson for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. The residents were offered shelter beds, free rides to a shelter and storage for their belongings, among other services, he said.
The note left in the fence claimed that those living in the encampment were just told to call 211 for information about shelter resources. Over the past few years, many have reported that calling 211 often fails as a connection to shelter or other resources.
“This long-term cleanup effort is to allow for the development of a new safe rest village location, led by Commissioner (Dan) Ryan,” Bowman said. “The senseless incident that occurred last night caused damage to private property and posed an immediate threat to the goats who were released. City staff has been in contact with Belmont Goats since early this morning to help the staff bring the goats back to safety.”
Bowman said that the city needs to move the goats just south of where they currently are to begin constructing tiny homes on the site, a process that will take place over the next couple of months.
The note in the fence expressed concern that those being swept wouldn’t be offered spots at the future safe rest village. Bowman said the city is interested in trying to offer those who are swept spots at the site. However, he said it will be up to the shelter operator to select residents for the safe rest village and an operator hasn’t yet been chosen to run the site.
Casey said city officials have told the nonprofit that they will help move the goats but haven’t told them when that will happen.
“The process has been slow going, but I think there are just a lot of pieces at play,” Casey said. “We essentially must find a day where we take down the whole barn and reconstruct it at the new property so that the goats aren’t without shelter. The city gave us indication that at least one person is going to work with us to figure out how to do that and there was talk about some gap year students assisting with that work.”
Eventually, though, the land will be used to develop an affordable housing project that is part of the region’s larger housing plan. Habitat for Humanity has been approved to lead a project to build 53 townhomes, each with two to four bedrooms, that families earning just 60% of the city’s median household income could afford to buy.
The area isn’t being cleared for goats but to honor the city’s pledge not to allow camping in the immediate vicinity of its safe rest villages, Casey noted. “The note pushed through the fence made it clear they felt like we were the reason people were being swept,” Casey said. “But we are a community-minded organization and we like (the encampment) there. They are our eyes and ears. I’ve had one of the campers call and say they’ve noticed one of our goats was limping. And last summer, there was a fire and the fire department wasn’t able to respond quickly but one of the campers had a fire extinguisher and put our fire out.”
And an encampment resident was the one to first alert Casey that the goats had been set free. One of the campers called Casey at 3:30 a.m. to inform her of the emergency.
“We don’t want anybody swept, but we don’t have much control over it,” Casey said. “We want humanity and we want the people taken care of and we want people to have some place to go and we want to advocate for them. We are on their side.”
While there were reports in initial media reports a goat dying after being set free, Casey said the death was not related. An older goat died Monday morning after a long illness, nearly a day before the fence cutting, Casey said.
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