Campus safety’s big problem: non-students on campus

Dennis Marks, Clackamas Community College's director of college safety. He stands in front of the College Safety sign, giving a smile to the viewer.

Dennis Marks, Clackamas Community College’s director of college safety.

By Erik Paul
Design Editor

Campus safety officers respond to calls on an “almost daily” basis regarding the presence of nonstudents on Clackamas Community College campus according to Dennis Marks, director of college safety.

Whether sleeping in bushes, on benches or hiding out in bathrooms until after hours – it’s Campus Safety’s role to ensure the campus is safe for students and staff alike.

“We don’t want to be unwelcoming to people that are in need of help,” Marks said. “That’s part of the purpose for being here, but we do want to make it safe for everybody and not a huge burden on us administratively to maintain the facilities, etc.”

Recently, the issue has made its way into discussions between students, faculty, and community partners,  prompting concerted efforts to address the corresponding uptick in the individuals seeking refuge on or around CCC’s campus.

“We have one of our officers that generally attends the homeless committee,” Marks said. “It’s both information sharing and also trying to gather resources. So, we do have an involvement there, but all of our officers have a variety of options that we can give to somebody, including we can offer them a bus pass to get back to where they want to go or where they can go in the community to get free showers or laundry or stuff like that. Part of it is that we have a transit center here, so it’s easy to get off the bus.”

The school’s community food pantry creates another attraction for non-students coming to campus.

Around the CCC campus, signs of homelessness are becoming increasingly visible. Makeshift encampments dot the periphery of the college and serve as a stark reminder of the broader societal issues at play. Concerns exist regarding the safety of students and staff, particularly during late hours when campuses close.

In January, students from nearby Oregon City High School discovered a deceased man on the trail connecting the high school with the college. The incident raised concerns not only for students in the area but for those who are present on campus when the school is closed.

“We try to have somebody on duty anytime a campus is open for student activities,” Marks said. “We don’t have officers here overnight.”

The college is ramping up its efforts to provide support and resources to individuals experiencing homelessness. Collaborating with local agencies and community organizations like The Father’s Heart, CCC is working to connect these individuals with housing assistance, mental health services, and other essential resources.

While officers work to ensure that students are coming to a safe campus, they also carry lists of community resources so they can point those seeking help in the right direction. Every month, security officers from CCC also attend meetings for the Homeless Solutions Coalition of Clackamas County.

Despite these measures, the issue of homelessness continues to present complex challenges for CCC and the rest of the Portland area. As the college faces this challenge, there is a growing recognition of the need for collaborative approaches, prioritizing the safety and security of all individuals.

“It’s a balancing act all the time,” Marks said. “We kind of have to come up with a middle-of-the-road here that makes student A feel safe, but student B feels like we’re still comforting and supportive. So, that’s a challenge, but I think our officers here do a really good job of that and do a really good job of explaining.”

Throughout these efforts, the college remains committed to maintaining a safe learning environment where every member of the community can thrive.

Erik Paul