From Amanda Waldroupe at the Willamette Week, May 14, 2008

The homeless protesters outside of City Hall are continuing to protest for their causes of more affordable housing and the suspension of the sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances despite a split amongst the ranks regarding whether they should leave City Hall during the evening in order to avoid a sweep by the police.

Last night, in a meeting attended by at least 50 of the protesters (see below), it was announced by protest leaders that protesters would no longer be spending the night at City Hall in an effort to avoid police sweeps.

Outspoken dissension ensued, and many people opted to stay at City Hall.

“I’ve been here way too long to let it go,” Laura Miller, 21, said.

“You don’t stand down where you’re in a fight,” Shaggy Simpson, 25, said.

Protesters say that approximately 60 people slept in front of City Hall last night.

Larry Reynolds, one of the leaders of the protest, told WW that the decision was made so that people could find a place to get some rest (it’s a bit difficult to get a good night’s rest in front of City Hall) and also so that the protesters could get re-organized and re-focused.

“We rested not very well last night,” Reynolds said, adding that he got about three hours of sleep last night.

Reynolds says that many people are anxious about the possibility of police sweeps in the middle of the night and have lost sleep waiting for the police to show up. A police sweep did not occur the night of May 12 and 13, as it was expected to, nor were any of the people who spent the night last night swept by the police.

Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese and public information officer Sgt. Brian Schmautz were not available for comment when WW tried to contact them this afternoon.

Reynolds thinks that the threat of police sweeps is only a hollow one.

“I think it is a scare tactic by the Portland police to run us out of here,” Reynolds said.

There is no hint amongst the protesters of giving up or leaving City Hall. However, people do not hold out a lot of confidence that the Mayor or rest of City Council will properly address their concerns.

“Their ears are stopped up,” Miller Miller, 47, said.

Miller was one of four people who testified in front of the City Council this morning on issues related to issues on homelessness and affordable housing.

“The number of homeless families, couples, single men and women and folks with kids far outweighs the number of temporary beds or space available to meet the needs of people,” Miller testified.

Of the way City Council is dealing with the protest, Miller testified that “this is not effective, compassionate leadership. Instead, it demonstrates an inability to recognize this as an emergency.”

“This is like a nightmare from Hell for them, and all they want is for us to go away,” Miller told WW this afternoon.

Throughout the afternoon and last night while WW was at City Hall, many cars driving by on 4th Avenue honked their horns in support of the protesters. Many people who are not homeless have also stopped by City Hall for a few hours or to spend the night with the protesters.

Supporters have even started a website documenting updates of the protest.

“We’ve got a lot of support,” Reynolds said. “We’re just going to continue with trying to get re-organized and keep driving the point until there is some action taken by City Hall.”

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From the Willamette Week, May 13, 2008

This afternoon, leaders of the homeless protesters outside of City Hall met with Mayor Tom Potter behind closed doors for a meeting they said was pre-planned and not addressing their concerns.

“He already had a response to this meeting before the meeting took place,” Arthur Rios, Sr. told a press conference outside of the Mayor’s office. “He still feels that we are a public safety problem. That’s bullshit.”

Rios gave WW a copy of the Mayor’s statement immediately after Rios left the 45-minute meeting with the Mayor, which begins “Today, I met with five folks who represent those who are protesting in front of City Hall.”

The Mayor did not meet with five people. He met with more than eight, including a three-legged dog.

The statement continues, “I listened to their concerns about homelessness about and City policies, and they listened to mine about public safety and public health issues that are concerns both to the public and to the protesters.”

A little odd that the statement is written in the present tense before he even met with the protesters, as was able to disburse it before a press conference with the media.

When asked why the statement was prepared beforehand, Potter dodged the question, saying that he began the press conference by talking about the issues brought up during the meeting.

Rios and other leaders of the protest requested that the meeting be recorded so the public could be made aware of the conversation. Potter refused, and when asked why information was being kept from the public, he said that was not case.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing right now [in this press conference],” Potter said.

One of the chief requests the protesters made to Potter was to suspend the anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances for four weeks until service providers can meet with the protesters and other homeless people to help them access services and find solutions to their homelessness.

Since the beginning of the protest, Potter has refused to consider suspending or repealing either ordinance.

“I can’t suspend it,” Potter said. “City Council must make that decision.”

When asked whether he would be willing to bring forward the idea of suspending or repealing the ordinances to the Council, Potter said he would not, and justified both ordinances by saying that they are “a valuable tool when police get complaints.”

Rumors of a police sweep that was expected to occur last night have been circulating amongst the protesters outside of City Hall. Many think that it will take place later today. Rios told media present that such a sweep will not break apart the protest.

“We will be prepared,” Rios said, adding that he is willing to be arrested by the police as many times as necessary until a compromise or better solution can be found.

The protesters have been outside City Hall since April 25 peacefully protesting for more affordable housing and the suspension or repeal of the anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances. Up until this week, the police and City have allowed the protest to happen.

When asked why the sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances are being enforced at this point, Potter cited problems with drugs, violence and fights in front of City Hall.

“We are asking that they comply with the protest rules like everyone else,” Potter said, who has maintained throughout the protest that the people outside City Hall retain the right to protest. (Up until today, no one from the protest has applied for a protest permit).

Rumors regarding a police sweep that was supposed to occur last night have circulated amongst the protesters, who think that it will take place later today. Many of the protesters are ready for it, and have packed up their belongings and are prepared to carry on the protest if a sweep happens. Check back to WWire for coverage of a sweep (if it happens).

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.

From the Willamette Week, May 11, 2008

After seven homeless protesters outside of City Hall were arrested yesterday, the 70 to 100 people continuing to protest outside of City Hall are resolved to keep it up until Tuesday, when the police are scheduled to conduct a sweep of the area around City Hall.

“We’re going to keep protesting until Tuesday,” says Art Rios Sr., one of the leaders of the protest.

On Saturday, Mayor Tom Potter issued a press release saying that the protesters’ camping and protesting outside of City Hall “are two very different activities, and the City has a separate response to each.”

With regards to the camping, the Portland Police posted illegal camping warnings along the walls of City Hall. According to many of the protesters, they are the same posters police put up before they sweep campsites in accordance with the parks exclusions law (see picture below).

The protesters were asked to move their belongings to the edge of the sidewalk nearest to the road, and police were called to the area when they received complaints that the legs and feet of some of the people were hanging over the sidewalk.

According to the posters, the area around City Hall will be swept on Tuesday.

Shaken and angered by the arrests, the protesters re-grouped Saturday night in a meeting to discuss the next steps of the protest. They reminded each other not to use any drugs or alcohol near City Hall, to clean up after themselves, and ended the meeting with shouts of “Unite! Not Divide!”

The spirits and resolve of the protesters were further buoyed by the return of those who were arrested. By 10 in the evening on Saturday, all seven had been released.

Jeff Bissonette, one of the candidates running to fill Sam Adams’ seat on the City Council, was there, answering questions and helping the protesters plan what to do. The consensus last night was to invite Mayor Potter to a meeting on Monday with the protesters.

The protesters hope to be able to find a compromise with the mayor on the sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances.

“It’s very unfortunate that the mayor is taking options off the table and not providing additional leadership,” Bissonette says, adding that he thinks the sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances should be suspended until longer term solutions are found.

The protesters also want to make it clear to Potter that what they’re doing is not camping. They’re protesting.

“I feel that Potter keeps thinking wrongly about why we’re here,” Rios says.

“The Mayor can say it’s camping, but I think even if that action is taken, we won’t be sweeping away the questions and issues that are being raised,” Bissonette says.

Disillusioned by the political weakness they see in Potter’s refusal to consider suspending the sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances and the enforcement of the anti-camping law, some of the protesters don’t trust that the Mayor will come through for them.

“Some of us feel he has a black heart now,” Rios says.

“They’re changing their tactics,” says Larry Reynolds of how the City is regarding the protest. (Up until this time, the City and police were not enforcing the sit-lie or anti-camping ordinances, because the protest is constitutionally protected.)

“This isn’t a camp. It’s a peaceful protest,” says Reynolds, who is one of the people arrested yesterday.

Reynolds says he has no interested in talking to Mayor Potter now that he was arrested, and doesn’t think that the mayor (who is the housing commissioner until Erik Sten’s seat is filled) is interested in working with the protesters to find a solution.

“I’m here because I’m tired of it. I’m just sick of it,” Reynolds said. “This is still a protest. No matter what they say.”

From Amanda Waldroupe of Willamette Week, May 1, 2008

In a May Day action event, advocates for the homeless are calling attention to the number of homeless people counted in the City of Portland’s biannual street count.

Today in the South Park Blocks, activists with nonprofit homeless services provider Sisters of the Road planted 1,438 white flags to symbolize the number of people counted by the City of Portland un-housed and living on the streets on any given night in Portland.

“We hope that everyone sees that it is still a significant number of people,” says Patrick Nolen, community organizer at Sisters of the Road.

The City’s 2007 one-night shelter count totals 3,018 people living in shelters, motels with vouchers, with rental assistance, and people in transitional housing.

In addition, 1,438 people who were turned away from shelters, sleeping on the streets, in cars and abandoned buildings, were counted in a one-night street count.

All together, approximately 4,000 people experience homelessness on any given night in Portland, according to the Bureau of Housing and Community Development.

“We think that number is low,” Nolen says. He says the actual number of homeless may be twice the city’s figure.

Nolen faults the City for not counting people who are couch-surfing (staying at a friend’s house), families or individual who are doubled up in sub-standard housing (for example, more than one person living in a one-bedroom apartment), and people in jails or hospitals who would otherwise be homeless.

Nolen says if those people are counted, the number of homeless people in Portland would be closer to 8,000.

At the same time, Nolen admits it is difficult to pull off an accurate street count.

“It would be very hard to get an accurate count anytime you are dealing with thousands of people over a city the size of Portland,” says Nolen. “Especially when you have no real budget to get that count.”

The street and shelter count is used by the City and Bureau to determine the types of services homeless individuals and families need. Additionally, the counts are also used as a way to track the success of the City’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

“It’s always going to be something of an undercount,” says Sally Erickson, homeless program coordinator at the Bureau.

Erickson says that doing the street count is not as high a budget priority for the City or Bureau as compared to providing services and housing to homeless people, and admits that in an “ideal world,” the populations that Nolen and other Sisters’ activists bring up in their protest today would be counted.

“If you want a comprehensive cout, it would cost money,” Erickson says. “[And] I think it’s almost impossible to count every single person who is homeless and on the street on any given night, unless you had thousands of volunteers and lots of resources.”

From Corey Pein of the Willamette Week, April 23, 2008

WW’s weekly election feature—designed to scare the hell out of City Hall candidates.

This week’s question to the candidates for ex-Commissioner Erik Sten’s seat: In the most recent one-night head count in the city auditor’s report, how many homeless people were in Portland and Multnomah County shelters?

Nick Fish, labor lawyer and former Housing Authority commissioner: “I’m going to say 800.”

Ed Garren, therapist: “I’ll tell you flat out I don’t know, so why should I try to lie to you?”

Jim Middaugh, Sten’s chief of staff: “In shelters…I know how many we got off the street. [Long pause.] This is where you type ‘long pause.’ Five hundred.”

Fred Stewart, former real-estate agent and bar owner: “I’ve heard this figure before, but I can’t remember. I’m going to take a guess: 1,100.”

Harold Williams Two, youth counselor: “A thousand.”

+++

Sally Erickson at Portland’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development sends along a clarification regarding the one-night shelter count cited above, which we pulled from the City Auditor’s annual “Service Efforts and Accomplishments Survey.”

The Auditor’s report says a Jan. 24, 2007 “one night shelter count of homeless” totaled 3,018 people. We should’ve gone to the primary source.

As Erikson notes, that number breaks down as follows:

“674 individuals in shelter

“37 people with motel vouchers

“697 people receiving rent/mortgage assistance (who, without it, would have been homeless; including rent assistance for people who recently exited homelessness)

“1,610 people in transitional housing (Examples include a clean & sober apartment building with services where people can live up to 2 years. Another is ‘transition-in-place’ rent assistance for families and individuals exiting homelessness. They are provided with services and linkage to employment so, when rent assistance ends, they’re still able to pay the rent.)”

Thanks, Sally.