'Straight up bullshit': inmates paid $1 to clear homeless camps they once lived in
In Portland, a supposed beacon of progressive politics, the practice of using prisoner work crews is painted as a win-win – but that’s not how some see it
In many places in the US, the fraught job of clearing out a homeless encampment is given to professionals. In San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, for example, the job often falls to city employees in public works or sanitation departments, who might get paid upwards of $16 an hour.
But in Portland, which prides itself on being a paragon of progressive politics, inmates at the county jail get $1 a day – enough to buy a Butterfinger at the commissary – to do the work.
Some of the inmates sifting through or dismantling homeless dwellings were previously homeless themselves, making for a bizarre merry-go-round. The job can make it feel as if their worlds are colliding.
Jeff Nelson was homeless for 13 years and on an inmate work crew for six months. He remembers dealing with a well-tended tent in Portland’s Hollywood neighborhood – like one he might have lived in himself.