Portland Zombie Homes

I recently shot photos for a story that ran in the Portland Tribune about "Zombie Homes" in the Portland area. The article tells the story of about 430 abandoned houses on Portland's East-Side that often are taken over by squatters, and the Portland Police Departments uphill battles to keep these squatters out and keep the homes in good condition.

The city of Portland is in the midst of a housing crisis. There aren't enough modestly-priced homes and apartments in the city to house everyone that needs to be housed. These vacant homes where squatters have moved in are often in a state of disrepair, and a blight to the neighborhoods they occupy, as well as posing a public safety issue to neighbors. This problem has been left up to "Neighborhood Response Teams" made up of police officers who patrol known abandoned homes as well as field calls about problem houses, in an attempt to keep them clear of squatters.

For the article, writer Peter Korn and I rode along with two police officers who head up a neighborhood response team, Rob Brown and Joseph Young.

We stopped first at an abandoned house that was a known problem spot. There were boarded up doors and windows as well as a "board-up notice" that notified owners and anyone that may be interested that the Portland Police Bureau had been on the premises.

At the second location, a similar house to the first, the officers were flagged down by neighbors who let them know that, while the house they were checking on had been a problem in the past, the real current problem was a duplex just 3 houses down. They had been hearing people going in and out at all hours of the day, and the back of the property was completely trashed. We called in to another officer, Devonna Dick, and went down the street.

The third house we checked on was one that the officers had boarded up semi-recently, but were reasonably sure that squatters were still living in. That turned out to be spot on, as when we arrived the boards had been ripped off, the windows taped up with blankets (a sign, they told us, of current squatter activity), and there was trash all over the property, including drug paraphernalia. 

Officers noted a garbage can set up under the gutter to collect rainwater, as the water to the property had been shut off. We entered the house to check the interior for squatters. There was trash and fecal matter throughout the house. It was...unpleasant to say the least. Officers left the property coughing and gagging. They told us that they could never quite get used to the state they found these houses in.

In the basement of an abandoned home on a half-acre lot, officer Brown fount a metal-lunch box where a fire had been lit, and bottles of urine. This home sat on a huge lot, and was completely filled with possessions of its former owners. Clothes, toys, and games were scattered around, and the basement showed signs of squatters.

Here are the articles how they ran in print: