From Matt Davis at the Portland Mercury, May 15 2008

From the cops:

Early this morning the Police Bureau closed the sidewalk around City Hall for cleaning. All individuals were removed and the sidewalk will remain closed until Safe and Clean completes the cleaning. Once the sidewalk reopens, individuals will once again be allowed to walk or protest on the sidewalk in front of at City Hall. Police will enforce all applicable laws related to camping and sleeping on the sidewalk.No one was arrested during the sidewalk closing. However, one person was arrested about a half hour later. The man, 20-year-old Andrew Newman, was arrested for Interfering with a Police Officer after he refused repeated commands to get out of the street.

Discuss.

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From Amy Ruiz and Matt Davis of the Portland Mercury, May 14, 2008

Tuesday afternoon, May 13, with the homeless protesters in front of city hall facing enforcement of the city’s camping ordinance, five representatives sat down with Mayor Tom Potter.

The meeting did not go so well. Potter didn’t let the protesters record the conversation. Afterward, protest organizer Arthur Rios Sr. waved the mayor’s prepared statement, and told assembled reporters that Potter “already had a response to this meeting before we even had this meeting.” Rios Sr. vowed to keep up the protest, and headed outside to tell the crowd what had transpired in the meeting.

Potter spoke next, reading from his statement—which noted that the city “spends $37.5 million every year on programs to end homelessness, get people into jobs, and develop housing.”

“We feel that it’s time that they comply with the rules that are set up around protesting,” Potter said. City staffers handed out copies of the sit-lie and camping ordinances, but it’s unclear when police officers will begin enforcing them.

The meeting capped off a weekend of tension, as homeless people and their allies continued to protest the city’s sit-lie and camping ordinances, plus inadequate shelter and housing options.

On Saturday morning, May 10, as a group of homeless people kicked off a third week of protesting in front of city hall, police stopped by to hang bright orange signs, which noted that the site would become an illegal campground on Tuesday, May 13. Protesters say they were ordered to the curbside of the sidewalk, and told that unattended belongings would be confiscated.

A few hours later, the police stopped by again. Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese told the protesters on the south side of city hall that TriMet bus drivers had called in to complain, alleging that the protesters near the bus stop were sticking their legs out into the street.

Protesters argued, pointing out they were only on the curbside at the cops’ behest. For two weeks, they’d peacefully camped out alongside city hall’s balustrade—far from passing busses.

The détente ended with seven arrests, after six protesters refused to budge and were arrested for interfering with an officer. A seventh—protest organizer Larry Reynolds—was handcuffed for resisting arrest. (Go to blogtown.portlandmercury.com/politics for footage of the arrests.)

The next day—as the crowd counted down the hours to May 13, worried they’d be “swept” away from city hall just after midnight—protesters sent a letter to the mayor, requesting a public meeting.

“We want a real dialogue about the homelessness and affordable housing,” the letter said, asking for a meeting “before any attempt to remove our protest.”

Potter responded, scheduling a closed Tuesday afternoon session, and reiterating his ground rules: “While I believe in your right to express your views, I also believe that every right comes with a corresponding responsibility to respect the law.”

From Matt Davis at the Portland Mercury, May 14, 2008

Sisters of the Road, a nonprofit that works with the homeless, resigned from the mayor’s Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee last week, vowing instead to devote its time to advocating for the repeal of the city’s controversial sit-lie and anti-camping laws. The sit-lie law emerged from the SAFE committee, but Sisters isn’t happy with how it’s been enforced.

“The SAFE resolution effectively criminalized people who are experiencing homelessness and have nowhere to rest during the day,” said Sisters’ Associate Director Michael Buonocore, at a press conference held on the steps of city hall on Thursday, May 8, adding that it is now “effectively illegal to be homeless in Portland.”

Buonocore said Sisters was assured that the sit-lie ordinance would not target homeless individuals, but that “it has been shown to do exactly that.” Seventy-nine of the 88 warnings or citations issued between August 2007 and January 2008 under the sit-lie ordinance have been given to homeless people. Meanwhile, the services promised to accompany the ordinance—like public restrooms—”have been inadequately implemented,” Buonocore says.

Sisters has been part of the SAFE committee since its inception in 2006. The committee is due to present back to city council in August, but it will now be more difficult for pro-sit-lie advocates to claim that the committee represents a cross-section of the community, and that the sit-lie ordinance should therefore be continued.

Sisters’ civic action group, coordinated by Patrick Nolen, will now work on an advocacy campaign, encouraging people to contact their elected officials demanding the repeal of the controversial laws.

“I am really disappointed in their decision,” says Mike Kuykendall of the Portland Business Alliance, the SAFE committee’s co-chair. “The SAFE committee has been working with Sisters of the Road in good faith for more than two years on how to make downtown more livable for everyone. We’ve made so much progress during that time, including funding day shelters, public restrooms, and benches for the Central City. We will continue pushing for more of these types of services, and I wish they would have chosen to continue being a part of this effort.”

From Amy Ruiz at the Portland Mercury, May 14, 2008

“I think everyone’s preference is to have all four members agree on a budget,” Mayor Tom Potter said, kicking off a conversation about the budget. Ultimately it was a low-key discussion, other than a short aside between Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard about the differences between ongoing and one-time funding (with Potter seeing one-time funding as an affront because it could evaporate the next year, and Leonard pointing out that the council has to reapprove all funding, ongoing and otherwise, every year). The council heard testimony from two dozen people, and went over a few line items—areas where Potter disagrees with Leonard and Commissioner Sam Adams, who’ve put together their own budget revisions. In the end, they didn’t adopt a budget; They’ll keep discussing it for a few weeks, and Commissioner Dan Saltzman has his eye on trying to craft a compromise.

The real action happened outside. I got a call reporting that things were about to escalate with the protest, so I ran downstairs. There were a handful of cops, who had honed in on one man who was asleep under a blue tarp. He didn’t respond to vigorous rubs on his chest, so the cops called paramedics. As media and other protesters gathered around, the paramedics came and took the largely unresponsive man away. While he was being loaded into the ambulance, protesters asked the cops if they were going to confiscate his belongings; No, they said, and let the protesters move in to gather up his things. With that, the cops left.

Protesters said they believe the cops had shown up to enforce city ordinances, but the medical issue took precedence—and when it drew attention, they believe the cops abandoned their ‘sweep’ plans for the moment.

From Amy Ruiz at the Portland Mercury, May 14, 2008

As promised, the homeless protesters returned to city hall this morning. More than a dozen of them are in council chambers at the moment, waiting to offer public testimony.

Many of them are wearing small cardboard signs around their neck—affixed with yellow and pink ribbons—that say “I Don’t Know Where Else to Go.”

“We’re not going away,” protester Katie Nilson told the council this morning. “We just ask that you would care enough to listen, and do something. Do something more than you’re doing, because it’s not working. And I say ‘we’ because I represent everyone out here.” Behind her, half of the people in the full council chambers waved their arms in agreement.

“We are first and foremost citizens of the United States of America. We have a voice. We are nurses, we’re doctors, we’re lawyers, we’re carpenters, we’re Christians, we’re social workers, we’re children, we’re brothers and sisters, we’re mothers and grandmothers, and grandfathers, to name only a few. It is our human and civil right, and constitutional right, to be involved with the decision making process, which establishes laws and those who enforce the laws over us,” testifies Larry Reynolds, reading from a speech I saw him writing out in longhand this morning on the sidewalk. “The sit-lie and no camping ordinance, which have been implemented by the city and enforced by the police bureau… are a direct reflection on our human, civil and constitutional rights. If you’re going to tell us that we can’t be here, then you need to find somewhere for us to go before you tell us that. That place is not jail. We are not criminals. Although we have that problem in our community like you do in yours. We applaud your efforts, and may god bless us all in all of our decision making processes.”

From Matt Davis at the Portland Mercury, May 13, 2008

The homeless protesters outside city hall have decided to disband and leave for tonight, to regroup and return in the morning and avoid being swept by the cops. Representative Art Rios, Sr. told the crowd, and three different TV cameras, at 7:30 that the protesters can claim a series of “great big victories,” including a conversation with the mayor, and “great support from the community,” but that by cleaning up and returning in the morning, the protesters can create a “win-win situation.” Behind him, a 12-foot banner read “Repeal the Sit/Lie Ordinance.”

Rios thanked everyone gathered for their efforts, and said “When I started this, I didn’t expect it to be this big. We’ll be here again tomorrow, and we’re not going away.” People started packing up to go, almost immediately.

One protester, named Tim, started screaming “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, you never asked me…” and ran around for about five minutes. Eventually he calmed down after being confronted by three fellow protesters. Not everyone was happy with the decision to move on, and Tim, who before Rios’ announcement, had been singing civil war songs, started parading around with an upside-down American flag:

“If there’s only three of us out here in the morning,” said Rios, “well then there’s only three of us out here. We’re not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings but I guess it was inevitable that someone would be upset.” For tonight, everyone will have to find somewhere else to sleep, and hope they don’t get moved on by the cops.

Good luck to them.

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.