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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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