From Amy Ruiz at the Portland Mercury, May 13, 2008

A half dozen homeless protesters just spent 50 minutes locked up with Mayor Tom Potter.

“He already had a response to this meeting before we even had this meeting,” says Arthur Rios Sr. He has a sheet with the city’s response, which notes that the city “spends $37.5 million every year on programs to end homelessness, get people into jobs, and develop housing.” He says what’s reflected on the sheet did not reflect the conversation they had.

“If you guys think that he really listened to us, he also had this done,” Rios Sr. says. Why would Potter do that? “He’s scared of us.”

Will the city do a sweep? Rios Sr. says Commander Mike Reese had no comment. If they have to move under the rules of sit-lie, they’ll do so—and come back the next day to picket, he says.

With that, “we’re going to go outside, and talk amongst everybody, because it affects everybody,” he says.

Why were some of the available shelter beds empty last night, one TV reporter asked? “Because there are people with dogs, with their spouse, with disabilities,” Rios Sr. says, and shelters don’t accommodate them. Moreover, there were only 18 shelter beds open—and over 140 people in front of city hall last night.

Potter speaks, after the cut.

Potter came out, and read from the statement he’d given to the protesters.

“We feel that it’s time that they comply with the rules that are set up around protesting,” he says.

Where will people go if there are only 18 open shelter beds? Potter says he doesn’t have all the answers, but says they’re working with the various agencies, and will charge the new bureau of housing to address this issue.

They said they’d move if you’d suspend the camping ordinance, says a TV reporter. “Well, first of all, I can’t suspend it,” he says. “Secondly, I think it’s a valuable tool. When police get complaints on fighting, issues around sanitation and health, that’s the tool that we use. We very seldom issue citations… it’s always based on a complaint.”

Will there be a sweep? “We will not be discussing the time or place of those,” Potter says. “We’re going to do everything within our means that its done peacefully, and that people leave of their own volition.”

Potter says they discussed “various options” with the agencies in town, how they can leave of their own volition. “They were asking for a green zone, I said I think that’s an issue we can discuss at the committee” about the plan to end homelessness.

We’ve heard via city hall security guards that the reports of feces and needles in the bathrooms are overblown. Potter claims they’re documented.

“They still have the right to continue to protest. What we have the right to do is [control] the time place and manner of such a protest,” he says.

“That’s a really dumb question,” Potter just told a reporter, who asked how Potter could have possible believe that letting over a hundred people camp outside of city hall wouldn’t lead to problems. For starters, Potter says, it didn’t start out with such a large crowd. And “they’ve got a right to protest.”

“It’s hard to separate out people who are causing problems, and the campers themselves have said…” Potter trailed off.

Potter’s getting impatient, pointing out when questions are repeating—one reporter just asked for a second time where the protesters are supposed to go. He also asked one reporter if he wanted to ask a question, or argue.

“That was a conversation between the group that came in to see me and myself,” Potter says, explaining why he didn’t want it recorded. Isn’t it of public interest? Potter says that’s why he’s talking to the press now.

Did Potter listen to the protesters? He says he discussed their issues, plus what’s on the city’s statement.

“They can walk, they can hold signs, there are many different ways they can express their opinions and peacefully protest,” Potter says. “The city has the right to set the time, place and manner.”

Other cities have found that their similar sit-lie and camping ordinances are unconstitutional. “That’s always a possibility,” says Potter. “We’ll deal with the issue if the ruling is against the city.”

Does Potter see progress being made? “I do,” he says.

“There are folks out there as protesters that are not homeless. I suggested to [the protesters] that they ask those people if they can stay at their houses.” Would Potter extend that invitation for his own home? “No.”

Do you think the homeless would have been allowed to protest outside of city hall for two weeks without police action in any other city, asks the Oregonian’s Anna Griffin. “That’s a good question, Anna,” Potter says. “Why don’t you call around.”

Is a Dignity Village II in the works? Potter says he likes that model, but didn’t speculate if a second one would emerge.

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