From Willamette Week, May 13, 2008

WW spent the night with the homeless protesters outside of City Hall, waiting for a police sweep expected to occur early this morning. It has not — yet.

Here I am! (not looking quite as fashionable as usual; photo taken by Chad Witt):

The leaders of the homeless protesters—who have been demonstrating since April 25 for more permanent and affordable housing and the suspension (or repeal) of the city’s sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances—say the scheduled police sweep was canceled due to a meeting with Mayor Tom Potter scheduled for today at 3.

Anticipation and anxiety amongst the protesters about the police sweep had been pretty high late in the evening and early morning. Michael Miller, a 49-year-old protester who has been swept before by the police from underneath bridges, says police would normally awaken sleeping people.

In front of City Hall last night, none of the protesters were sleeping, instead talking, playing cards, or playing instruments.

“Everybody’s ready,” Miller said. “No one’s sleeping.”

By 1 am the number of people outside of City Hall had grown to 140, the largest yet. Not all the protesters are homeless. Many are housed and join the protesters in the afternoon or evening in solidarity. One of those people showing up to support the protest is Danielle Kidd, a 29-year-old emergency room nurse who frequently sees homeless people in the hospital.

“They are making a difference,” Kidd says of the protesters. “They’re giving a new face to homelessness.”

Chad Witt, a 32-year old manufacturing engineer, joined Kidd last Thursday to spend the night with the protesters. Witt spent last night at City Hall as well.

Both Witt and Kidd are opposed to Mayor Potter’s refusal to budge on the possibility of suspending the anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances.

“I think he should suspend them [the ordinances] until they can find better solutions,” Kidd says. “What else are they going to do?”

Jeff Bissonette, a City Council candidate campaigning to fill Sam Adams’ seat, joined the protesters to spend the night with them.

Bissonette says Potter’s agreement to meet with the protesters today is a step in the right direction. But he hopes the mayor’s emphasis on public safety and sanitation in his letter to the protesters won’t distract from “the key points that are at hand.”

“Where do people go to stay in the immediate and longer term?” Bissonette asked. “The Mayor needs to negotiate in good faith, and I would expect no less from him.”

Since the protest began, the City worked with the Salvation Army to open up shelter beds for men and women. The protesters outside City Hall say they don’t want to move into a shelter because of concerns about safety, hygiene and cleanliness.

“I don’t think more shelters are the answer,” Witt says. “I see that a temporary fix. It doesn’t lead to transformation in people’s lives.”

Rumors circulated amongst the protesters that the police sweep will be conducted sometime later today after the meeting with Mayor Potter.

The protesters have already decided they will not disperse or stop protesting once swept.

“This is a lot bigger than I expected this to be,” says Arthur Rios, Sr., one of the organizers and leaders of the protest.