From Mara Grunbaum of Street Roots, May 20, 2008

People on the streets organize to send a message to City Hall

Most passing drivers just drove. Some honked and waved in solidarity. One yelled, “Get a job!” – to which one of the homeless protesters outside City Hall shouted back, “I have one, thank you!”

If nothing else, the weeks-long Homeless Liberation Front protest – which calls for the suspension of Portland’s camping and sidewalk obstruction ordinances – has dragged the debate on homelessness out of the city’s bureaucratic offices and onto the street.

The protest, at first an impromptu showing of five people displaced from under the Burnside Bridge by April’s campsite sweeps, swelled to include more than 100 homeless people and supporters. Their tarps, blankets and protest signs (“Housing is a human right”; “This is a protest, not a camp”) lined the edge of the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

As the group grew, its organizers worked to maintain order. They formed trash brigades to keep the site clean and assigned security details to watch for theft and drug use. Several protesters were prone to seizures, so lookouts ran to warn them if sirens and lights approached.

On the evening of Saturday, May 10, about 50 protesters circled up in City Hall’s front plaza to regroup. Despite their efforts, things were in danger of getting out of control.

Seven people, including some of the protest’s recognized leaders, had been arrested that afternoon. Mayor Tom Potter had issued a statement citing “increasing congestion, obstruction and public safety concerns” as reasons he would ask the protesters to stop sleeping there. There had been arguments among protesters, a drug deal overnight and sanitation problems in the City Hall restroom the protesters were using. The police had posted signs declaring the sidewalk an illegal campsite.

The circle of protesters passed around a leather keychain-turned-talking stick as they discussed their next steps. What did they want from the mayor? Were they prepared to engage in civil disobedience? How could they make sure the city and the public took them seriously?

Rachel Williamson, one of the original protesters, reiterated the makeshift community’s rules: No alcohol or drug use. No foul language. No smoking on City Hall property. No weapons. Respect all others.

“People are seeing everything you do here,” said a protester named Rick, who came down from Seattle to join the protest. “It’s like you’re under a microscope.

“We need to stick together,” said Kat, a 19-year-old protester who is pregnant and trying to find housing. “The drama, everything, it separates us.”

The protesters voted to request a second meeting with the mayor, because the first had left them unsatisfied. Potter agreed two days later – to another private meeting, not a public one as protesters requested – in a letter that restated his safety concerns and seemed to hold the entire group accountable for them.

“I understand these illegal actions represent the work of a minority,” Potter wrote, “but it concerns me that the leadership of this protest appears unable to prevent these illegal acts. And while I believe in your rights to express your views, I also believe that every right comes with a corresponding responsibility to respect the law.”

+++

Perhaps not coincidentally, the mayor’s concerns about the safety of the growing protest echoed the justification for the campsite sweeps that spurred it.

The camping ban has always been lightly enforced, said John Doussard, Potter’s communications director. “If folks are camping in small groups in quiet locations, (police) don’t bother them,” he said.

It’s when camps grow that dynamics change, according to Commander Mike Reese of the Portland Police Department. By the time the encampment under the Burnside Bridge was dismantled, it had reached 60 people, Reese said. “That’s just too large … we get fights, assaults, a lot of litter and vandalism.”

Some protesters and their advocates contend that removing troublemaking individuals could be just as effective as clearing whole camps, but Reese said it’s “pretty hard to know who in that group (are) the problem people.” He said that the week before the Burnside sweep, officers responded to a call about a fight involving 30 to 50 people.

Potter said he would not repeal the camping ordinance or the sit-lie ordinance, which prohibits sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks during the day. “These ordinances are livability ordinances,” Doussard said. “They deal specifically with the health and welfare of the public.”

The Portland Business Alliance, which had a hand in shaping the sit-lie ordinance, continues to support it. Megan Doern, PBA’s communications director, said the law helps retailers who feel that people sitting on the sidewalks are detracting from their business. “It’s been a valuable tool for making downtown the economic hub that it is,” she said.

But the ordinances face accusations that they criminalize homelessness and violate the civil rights of those they are enforced against.

In November, the Oregon Law Center sent a letter to the city of Portland threatening a class action lawsuit over the camping ordinance. The letter states that “policies and practices applied to (homeless individuals) violate their constitutional rights to equal protection secured by the Fourteenth Amendment and to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment secured by the Eighth Amendment.” The police are reviewing how they enforce the camping ordinance. (See “Camping law procedures under review,” page 1)

On May 8, Sisters of the Road announced its withdrawal from the mayor’s Street Access For Everyone work group, which developed the sit-lie ordinance in coordination with plans for new park benches, public restrooms and a homeless day access center. But Sisters’s Associate Director Michael Buonocore said in a statement that those services “have not been implemented in a timely and adequate manner,” and the sit-lie ordinance has been predominantly enforced against homeless people.

“The sit-lie ordinance has amplified the tragedy of the existing anti-camping ordinance, which also criminalizes those who have nowhere to sleep at night,” Buonocore said. “Between these two laws, it is effectively illegal to be homeless in Portland.”

+++

If there’s one thing the protesters and officials seem to agree on, it’s that shelter beds are not a lasting solution.

“We have a 10-year plan,” Potter’s spokesman Doussard said. “We’re working on it. We’ve been very successful with it. I don’t think any of these problems get solved overnight.” The city has tried to be aggressive in securing emergency funding and shelter, he said, but “the solution to homelessness is getting people into homes, and that’s where we’re trying to focus our attention.”

The 10-year plan to end homelessness calls for 2,200 additional units of permanent supportive housing – low-income housing with services built in – by 2015. Three years into the plan, 710 units have opened and 298 more are in development.

But the city has “hit the wall of available rental units,” and it still hasn’t built all the permanent affordable housing it needs, said Sally Erickson, a homeless policy coordinator with the Bureau of Housing and Community Development.

When the plan launched in 2005, Erickson said, “we had a healthy vacancy rate and landlords were willing to take advantage of rent assistance incentives. Now that the vacancy rate is closer to 2 percent, it is increasingly difficult for people with not-so-great rental history to find housing.”

There’s always tension between shelter approaches and permanent housing, said Beth Kaye, BHCD’s public affairs manager. “We have a finite amount of resources to spend in the city, and every dollar we spend on shelter is a dollar that is not going to permanent housing. On the other hand, the 10-year plan recognizes the importance of safety off the streets.”

In response to the protest, the city council found money to open 90 additional shelter beds for men and 12 for women. By May 14, there were still spots for men available, but the women’s beds were full, with a waiting list 86 names long. Protesters dismissed the emergency shelter beds as a “Band-aid” rather than a serious effort.

Henry Raschke, who earns $250 a week working for the carpenters’ union but can’t find housing, said he is leery of shelters after a stay in one exposed him to tuberculosis. Others avoid shelters because they can’t bring their pets or sleep next to their opposite-sex partners.

“We need a safe zone where we can go to put up our tents, put up our structures, house ourselves, house our animals, and take care of ourselves, since there is not enough shelter,” said Joseph Vanderheiden, one of the protesters who met with Mayor Potter. At his press conference on May 13, Potter said the idea could be worth considering.

Asked where protesters should go instead of the 4th Avenue sidewalk, Potter said, “We don’t have answers to that. We know that different homeless agencies will be working with them to try to find them places.”

Full shelters and low vacancy rates in affordable housing leave over 1,400 people outside every night. The new day access center, with space for 150 men and women and low-income housing units on top, won’t open for at least two years.

“From a bureaucrat’s perspective, two years will go by really quickly,” Buonocore said. “They can legitimately talk about the fact that they’re working on it. And in the meantime, more and more people are landing on the streets.”

+++

“I’m houseless, not homeless,” Duane Reynolds, one of the loudest protesters, explained to an inquisitive bystander on May 12. “Portland is my home.”

His account of the Burnside Bridge sweep differs from Reese’s. He says that while he was in church on April 21, five days before the posted notice said the camp needed to be cleared, his belongings were confiscated by police. When he tried to reclaim them, he said, he was ping-ponged between the Police Bureau and Parks and Recreation, each of which told him to check with the other. No one had his things.

“That was the final straw to get me here,” he said.

Larry Reynolds, Duane’s older brother, had been camping under the Hawthorne Bridge when he heard by word of mouth that people on the streets were starting to organize themselves. He joined the protest three days in, and he was eventually elected as a spokesperson. He was one of a few individuals to meet privately with Mayor Potter.

He left the first meeting frustrated that Mayor Potter would not repeal the ordinances, instead deferring to the 10-year plan as evidence that progress was being made.

“Do you know how tired we are?” he said that day. “You can’t sit here, you can’t stand here, you can’t lie here. You can’t cover up, you can’t sleep. You can’t get any rest. We’re midnight nomads, walking around with all our gear on our back, being told that we can’t sleep.”

Reynolds, a Cold War veteran who lost his job and his house after he broke his back working construction, said that the media, the police and the general public perpetuate a misconception that everyone on the streets is a beggar. For him, the protest represents a fight back against that attitude.

“There’s positive steps being made among the homeless community and messaging our plight to the general public,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to continue with what we are doing, and we are not going to give up on anyone that’s living out on the streets.”

“I may be new to advocating for myself and the homeless, but I’ve been helping people all my life,” he went on. “In a lot of ways this has taught me something about myself, and the good that exists in people. I think I have found my calling.”

From Street Roots, May 20, 2008

Homeless organizers made headlines and history in 2000, when people came out of the doorways to protest the city’s camping ordinance. In the past eight years, homeless protests and actions have ebbed and flowed, fighting ordinances that target people on the streets. The following is a chronology of those actions, legal battles and policy decisions.

2000

October 12: Out of the Doorways is launched by Street Roots and a group of activists living on the streets. The campaign is launched because of the lack of shelter space and in defiance of the city’s anti-camping ordinance.

December 16: A group of eight men and women pitched five tents under the Broadway Bridge, and Camp Dignity, later to become Dignity Village, was born. Two days later police sweep the camp. The group immediately sets up another camp under the Fremont Bridge. A shopping cart parade is used to transport materials from one camp to another and to gain media attention.

December 26: The camp swells in numbers. Villagers are forced to move yet again. They immediately set up a new camp under the Morrison Bridge, on the waterfront.

2001

Dignity Village becomes a media phenomenon on TV and radio stations throughout Portland and the nation. Images of people in wheelchairs and the shopping cart parades are brought to people’s living rooms. Most newspapers in Portland cover the camp as being underdogs who had no true vision or way to sustain themselves. The Oregonian editorial board calls for the city to sweep the camps. Street Roots acts as a sounding board for many of the villagers, and becomes the organization’s fiscal sponsor until 2003, when the Village becomes its own nonprofit.

January 21: The village moves from under the Morrison Bridge back to the Fremont Bridge. More than 100 people are now camping out in defiance of the city’s camping ordinance. The camp lasts nine months at this location.

September 1-7: The camp under the Fremont Bridge is swept, and after months of press from local and national media outlets, the city negotiates a temporary location for the village. The group splits into three factions. One group goes to a 40-acre farm outside of Portland; one group heads to Sunderland Yard, where the Village currently resides; another group begins a new camp on Naito Parkway, otherwise known as the Field of Dreams.

September 11: Field of Dreams is swept and several individuals identifying themselves as the Homeless Liberation Front are arrested for camping on public lands. All of the defendants plead not guilty. A judge throws the cases out of court.

2002

August 16: City Hall announces new enforcement guidelines for the city’s “Obstruction as Nuisances” law – essentially banning individuals sitting or lying on a public sidewalk.

September 18: Street Roots, Sisters Of The Road, and Dignity Village, along with more than 250 individuals on the streets and activists, converge on City Hall to protest the newly created sit-lie enforcement guidelines.

2003

March 19: A group of about 15 anti-war activists camp on sidewalks in front of City Hall and across the street on the federally owned Terry Schrunk Plaza, protesting the Invasion of Iraq. Protesters call the demonstration the Portland Peace Encampment.

March 24: Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road launch the Right to Sleep campaign. The campaign urges City Hall to look at alternatives to criminalization, specifically the city’s anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances, which they say unfairly target individuals experiencing homelessness. Hundreds of people experiencing homelessness and activists converge on City Hall; Council Chambers are packed while speakers ask the city to suspend the ordinances.

March 26: Numbers of the Portland Peace Encampment begin to swell. Homeland Security informs the group that they can’t camp in the park or they will be arrested. The Peace Camp moves to the city’s sidewalks, where the police begin to enforce the city’s Obstructions as Nuisances (sit-lie) law. Individuals experiencing homelessness begin to join the action in front of City Hall.

April 14: Police sweep the Peace Camp, confiscating food, clothes, and protest signs. The camp stays.

July 11: Within two weeks, it is swept again, and one person is arrested. Within a month, it is swept a third time, and three people are arrested.

August 11: City Council changes the enforcement guidelines of the sit-lie ordinance. The new guidelines include the restriction of picketers, demonstrations, and gatherings without a permit lasting more than eight hours.

August 13: The Peace Camp is rousted early in the morning and asked to move. Campers return and continue to protest the war on Iraq and the sit-lie law.

August 15: A sit-lie protest is organized by individuals experiencing homelessness and supporting organizations — hundreds of people converge on City Hall in protest. That night six individuals from the Peace Camp are arrested for violating the newly revised sit-lie law. The camp fizzles. Three of the arrestees, along with the newly created Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, will go on to challenge the ordinance.

September 28: Street Roots organizes a three-day sit-lie festival to protest the city’s sidewalk laws on the grounds that they unfairly target homeless people. Two Street Roots writers are arrested for camping on public lands. The defendants plead not guilty. A judge dismisses the cases.

2004

February 27: Dignity Village becomes the first city-sanctioned tent city in North America.

June 24: Portland’s sit-lie ordinance is declared unconstitutional by Circuit Court Judge Marylin E. Litzenberger. The judge’s ruling says the law is unconstitutionally broad and vague. From June 2004 until December 2005 the ordinance is not enforced.

2005

December: A new 18-month pilot sit-lie ordinance is negotiated between people experiencing homelessness, advocates for the homeless, the business community, law enforcement and the City of Portland. During its 18-month tenure, only 19 tickets were issued, eight of which were thrown out of court. Of the 11 remaining cases only one individual was found guilty.

2006

May 1: The Portland Business Alliance requests a six-month extension of the sit-lie ordinance until a new ordinance can be drafted that will allow the police to use broader enforcement guidelines. Many advocates thought the 18-month pilot ordinance implemented in December 2005 was adequate, and allowed for enforcement but didn’t violate human rights.

May 24: Mayor Potter presented City Council with the Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) Resolution, creating a workgroup to address street disorder and sidewalk nuisance problems. Twenty-four organizations representing people experiencing homelessness, law enforcement, the business community and the city work over the next 12 months to develop the strategy. Between May 2006 and August 2007 the ordinance is not enforced.

December 14: Street Roots comes out against the newly proposed sit-lie ordinance that makes it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

2007

January: The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, originally part of the 24 organizations that helped develop the SAFE committee recommendations, pulls its support of the ordinance. The ACLU says the ordinance goes too far by not allowing individuals sitting on stools or chairs, and limits protesters’ rights

March 14: Street youth gather in Waterfront Park to protest the city’s sit-lie ordinance. The group marches to City Hall to deliver their concerns to Mayor Potter.

May: Portland City Council implements the SAFE workgroups recommendations to create a homeless day access center, a public restroom plan and create park benches.

June: The City of Portland delays enforcement of the sit-lie ordinance until 25 park benches are installed and showers and lockers are installed in a homeless day access center.

August 15: City begins enforcement of the new sit-lie ordinance.

December: First reports from the Portland Police indicate that the vast majority of people cited under the sit-lie ordinance are people experiencing homelessness.

2008

April: Eight individuals experiencing homelessness camp out on the sidewalks of City Hall protesting the city’s anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances. The individuals had recently been swept from under downtown bridges.

May 1: The group swells to around 70 people experiencing homelessness demanding an end to the city’s anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances.

May 8: Sisters Of The Road ends its involvement with the Safe Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee because of the committee’s refusal to consider repealing the sit-lie ordinance.

May 10: Seven people are arrested. Six are arrested for interfering with a police officer, and one for resisting arrest. Two weeks later, police post an “Illegal Campground” notice, giving the protestors until May 13 to disperse

May 12: Camp swells to 140 people.

May 15: Camp is swept early in the early morning; protest continues

From Street Roots, May 20, 2008

Cost comparison of shelter, rent assistance and supportive housing in Portland

Basic Shelter

* Cost: $12.15 per person per day for 1,400 people
* Services provided: Place to sleep indoors, mats on the floor, no services
* Annual cost: $6,208,650
* Annual results: Homelessness ends for 0 people

Rent Assistance

* Cost: $13.75 per person per day for 1,000 people
* Services provided: Housing placement, rent assistance, and housing retention services (case management and other supports)
* Annual cost: $5,018,250
* Annual results: Homelessness ended for people 1,000 people

Permanent Supportive Housing

* Cost: $40 per person per day for 400 people
* Services provided: Permanent affordable housing with resident, social and clinical services (such as mental health and drug and alcohol treatment)
* Annual costs: $5,712,000
* Annual results: Chronic homelessness ended for 820 people

National research indicates that it saves $12,000 a year to house someone in supportive housing rather than keep them homeless. Locally, that number is $15,000. Costs of homelessness include frequent hospital and jail stays, which are greatly reduced when people have permanent housing and the clinical and other service supports they need to maintain their health and thereby remain stable in housing.

Unsigned editorial / opinion from Street Roots, May 20, 2008

Street Roots fully supports the idea of housing first – the idea that we as a community can engage individuals on the streets with low-income housing.

Portland is badly in need of leadership that will guide our city to the resources needed for people on the streets to thrive through a broad approach that includes economic development (micro-enterprising), outreach and engagement efforts through non-law enforcement and harm reduction models, and of course, housing itself.

The protesters in front of City Hall demanding an end to the camping and sit-lie ordinances have thrown a wrench into a larger bureaucratic battle that’s been playing out behind the scenes for years.

The city’s response to what many bureaucrats say are unreasonable demands (repealing the camping and sit-lie ordinances) have been to open 102 emergency shelter beds, 90 for men and 12 for women. The problem is that one of the goals of the 10-year plan to end homelessness was to get away from sheltering individuals and to providing permanent supportive housing first.

The reason for this is twofold: First, shelters are more expensive to run and don’t wield the results of the housing first model. Secondly, when shelters beds don’t fill up, the city can enforce the city’s camping ordinance. State law requires law enforcement not to enforce the ordinance if shelters are full.

Like it or not, many individuals experiencing homelessness are not going to sleep in a shelter, period. There are also people living with animals; couples, and families that simply will not be split up due to archaic shelter guidelines. And yes, there are drug addicts. Individuals dealing with an addiction are human beings, and using law enforcement to force individuals into the criminal justice system, and not have the same access to shelters as the broader population, is inhumane, costly, and backwards.

Street Roots has been covering camp sweeps, the camping ordinance and other criminalization efforts, along with innovative solutions to ending homelessness since our inception. On the ground level, we’ve consistently been told by our peers, vendors and other people on the streets that the number one issue beyond finding housing is law enforcement moving individuals from one place to another, time and again, with no alternative.

The people in front of City Hall have organized themselves. Their leadership is strictly from the streets. For better or worse, they’ve created community, and at the end of the day, tried to make the world a better place for themselves and people just like them.

We are all on the same side in this fight — local businesses, community organizations, City Hall, advocates, social services, and the people affected the most. It’s clear that there are not enough resources. But we can’t lose our focus on being able to couple short-term, out-of-the-box thinking with a housing first model that has proven successful. We can’t be distracted into thinking shelter beds are a satisfactory means to end the criminalization of the homeless or to house people. Portland’s leaders need to reinforce long-term solutions to truly make a difference.

By Joanne Zuhl from Street Roots, May 20, 2008

Central Precinct commander says City Hall protest probably won’t change how the law is enforced

Enforcement of the city’s camping ordinance, one of the primary points of protest for demonstrators outside City Hall this month, is under review as the city updates its manuals and policies.

In his address to the protesters on May 10, Mayor Tom Potter noted that discussions on how police enforce the camping ordinance are occurring. The ordinance prohibits sleeping with any bedding matter, or other items deemed part of a camp, on public property, punishable by a $100 fine or 30 days in jail. It is the mechanism commonly used for sweeping out homeless campsites and one of the key complaints behind the protest in front of City Hall. Several of the protesters reported that they are routinely rousted, often with a kick from authorities, and forced to find another place to be.

“The cumulative effect of the city’s anti-camping policies is to move people around when they have nowhere to go,” says Monica Goracke, co-chair of the Street Access for Everyone, or SAFE oversight committee, and a lawyer with the Oregon Law Center. “Many people who want to move inside are instead charged with violations and crimes, or excluded from parks. There is neither enough shelter nor housing for all the homeless people in Portland, many of whom have lived here for years. I would like to see the city increase funding for proven effective tactics to get people off the street like housing first, flexible rent assistance and more outreach workers, rather than enforce laws that do nothing to end and only exacerbate the problem of homelessness.”

Goracke is working with the city in reviewing the enforcement procedures for the ordinance.

Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese said updating the enforcement policies could change how police interact with people on the streets who are sleeping outside, however, “I would expect the next policy to be very similar to the current policy,” he said. He also said the City Hall protest probably won’t significantly influence how the policy is modified.

“I think we already have a policy that is very compassionate,” Reese said, outlining procedures for notifying social-service agencies, posting the camping violation notice in advance and giving people time to relocate their belongings. Reese said he hasn’t seen any potential changes to date.

In November, Goracke issued a letter to city attorney Linda Meng calling for the city to halt the enforcement of ordinances that prohibit homeless people from sleeping outside in Portland. The request was made on behalf of homeless individuals who are seeking relief, potentially through a class-action lawsuit, from being “moved along, excluded from parks and cited for camping and trespassing” by police officers.

The letter states that in the city should stop practices that, in the absence of sufficient resources for those in need, “have made criminal the status of being poor and homeless.”

Goracke says her clients would be amenable to discussing a solution to the situation, and uses as an example a case in Los Angeles that was settled when the city agreed to not enforce a similar ordinance between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. until an additional 1,250 units of permanent supportive housing were constructed in the city.

At the May 8 SAFE oversight committee meeting, several committee members noted that the fines levied against poor or homeless people cited under the camping, sit-lie and trespassing ordinances can become a barrier to getting into housing. The debt, if left unpaid, can damage a person’s credit record, which can derail a person’s hope of signing a lease regardless of agency support. The fines are typically levied when people fail to appear in court on their violations, and that fail-to-appear rate is about 100 percent, said SAFE oversight committee member Laurie Abraham, a Multnomah County district attorney.

Committee member Doreen Binder, executive director of the housing program Transition Projects Inc., called the fine situation counterproductive. “It’s standing in the way of what we want to be doing,” Binder said.

Goracke said the problem goes beyond the sit-lie ordinance, which was instituted through the SAFE committee in August, and is a point that will be taken up with Circuit Court.

“It’s not just fines from this ordinance that are causing the problem,” Goracke said. “That’s why I am hoping to open the discussion to the question of how court fines in general are causing the barriers.”

From Anna Griffin of the Oregonian, May 20, 2008

Weeks of camping at Portland City Hall put the issue in the forefront but resolved nothing

Anybody who thinks being mayor is an easy job should have dropped by City Hall last week.

Out front, a lone remaining homeless protester shouted slurs against Tom Potter to passers-by: “He has a black heart! He doesn’t care about the homeless! Where does he think we’re supposed to go?”

Inside, e-mails castigated Portland’s mayor for taking 21/2 weeks to move the campers: “What kind of a bum is this guy?” wrote one constituent. “Why didn’t he round these people up the first night they were there? Why doesn’t he just tell them all to get a job?”

Nope, being mayor isn’t easy, certainly not when it comes to an issue as difficult as homelessness.

Potter knows few people in town are thrilled with the way he let the protest stretch out. But what else was he supposed to do?

“Some people think I should have gone slower in moving them. Some people felt I shouldn’t have allowed them out there at all,” Potter said. “I know I didn’t make anybody especially happy, but that’s not my job.”

He expects his successor — who may be decided today — will face the same dilemma.

A group of homeless men and women moved onto the sidewalk on the Fourth Avenue side of City Hall on April 25, rallying against police plans to sweep out encampments under the Burnside Bridge and other popular spots. Over the first two weeks, the nightly crowd grew to more than 100.

At first, Potter seemed content to let the protest die out on its own. Police were under strict instructions not to force the protesters to move as long as they behaved. The mayor changed strategy, however, when organizers began to lose control.

Last week, Potter announced that police would begin to enforce the camping ban. Officers closed off the sidewalk for cleaning, and most of the protesters left. Fewer than a dozen remained Monday in a park kitty-corner to City Hall.

The problem is that Potter was stuck with no obvious solution.

“They had two demands that I could not meet,” he said. Protesters wanted him to lift the bans on camping and loitering on city sidewalks.

“But it was hard to argue against their issues,” he said, “because there should be no homelessness. So we tried to give people a chance to leave gracefully.”

Politically and practically, he couldn’t lift the anti-camping ban: Even though police rarely cite people for it, the law is a useful tool for cleaning up homeless camps when conditions get too unsanitary or dangerous.

But he also doesn’t have anyplace for the protesters to go. Although the city opened 102 extra shelter beds, many of the people outside City Hall either couldn’t or wouldn’t use them.

Portland spends $37.5 million a year working to provide more affordable housing and find both temporary and long-term shelter for homeless people. But there isn’t enough housing to go around — there are wait lists both for shelter space and permanent housing.

Potter is an unlikely bad guy for either side, and probably one of the few mayors in the country patient enough to allow a crowd to camp outside the front door of his office for two weeks. He’s both a former Portland police chief schooled in the command-and-control style of leadership and a quintessential Portland liberal who believes in the public’s right to protest.

He knows from personal experience how much officers hate the annual sweeps of homeless people under bridges and overpasses, and knows how pointless those sweeps can be given the lack of adequate housing options. He’s also an advocate for homeless people who served as executive director of New Avenues for Youth, a nonprofit that helps homeless young people get off the street and has helped with construction work at Dignity Village, the permanent homeless camp in North Portland.

As mayor, he’s left housing issues to Portland’s political expert: City Commissioner Erik Sten. But Sten resigned at the end of April. That left the mayor in charge of housing temporarily, until Sten’s replacement is elected either today or in a July 15 runoff.

And while both homeless protesters and law-and-order types criticized his leadership over the past two weeks, no one else was stepping up to do anything. Other City Council members stayed mum. Neither of the major candidates to replace Potter — business owner Sho Dozono and City Commissioner Sam Adams — had much to say.

Soon, however, protesters will have someone else to yell at.

Potter has two pieces of advice for the new mayor when it comes to avoiding future protests:

Keep working on long-term solutions to end homelessness, but also look for more middle-range solutions such as transitional housing. The city needs more places for people to go while they’re waiting for permanent space, something more stable and comfortable than a shelter bed.

A new day center planned for Old Town/Chinatown will be a good start, especially if planners succeed in turning it into something more than a warehouse for homeless people to stay during the daylight hours when shelters are closed.

The new guy, whether it’s Adams or Dozono, should expect more protests. The economy is likely to worsen. Even with the city’s existing 10-year plan to end homelessness, affordable housing is still hard to find.

The city and county will probably never have enough money to help everyone who is on the streets because of an addiction or mental health problem.

“Whoever comes into this position next is going to have to find a balance between understanding the issue from their own personal perspective and understanding the citywide good,” Potter said. “On an issue like this one, that can be very, very hard to do.”

From Joe Anybody, May 17, 2008

Homeless Protest City Hall Sat 5-17 Afternoon Update – from the park across the street from City Hall. Announcement that the Protest is still going on.
Monday meet at City Hall.

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