It's official: Almost everybody hates the sit/lie law.
As predicted, the mayor's Street Access for Everyone oversight committee listening session this afternoon was separated into ten groups, each attended by a facilitator who presented back to the larger group at the end. This made it difficult for me, as a reporter, to listen to all of what was being said, and several of those who spoke left before I could get their names. Nevertheless...
The chief architect of the sit/lie law, Mike Kuykendall of the Portland Business Alliance, showed up and sat at a table opposite the law's chief opponent, Sisters Of The Road's community organizer Patrick Nolen. Nolen pointed out that 133 of the, so far 159 total police contacts associated with the law have been made by two officers paid for by the PBA; Dobson, and Cox.
In addition, Nolen's survey of 169 people, asking how they had been treated by the officer enforcing the law, shows that 15 said "friendly," 28 "firm but fair," 32 "unfriendly," 46 "rude or disrespectful," and 22 "aggressive." 29 didn't respond. 2 specific people mentioned Dobson and Cox as either rude or specifically targeting them.
The majority of those present appeared to be testifying against the ordinance, but I did manage to catch up with two retail employees who were big supporters. Read all about the meeting after the jump.
"Right now, as a retailer who works downtown, I don't feel I have any rights. I've never experienced anything like this," said the unnamed lady in the middle, wearing the pearl necklace, who alleged being spat on by homeless people. "I feel threatened every day working down here."
"I don't even leave the store to take a break at work," said the lady on the left. "You never know what's going to happen when you go outside. Why on earth would people act that way?"
Another lady, Veronica, who was from Travel Portland, said she was also a supporter of the ordinance. "We have people making complaints about the number of homeless people," she said. "Sometimes even when it's just one person complaining, they represent a lot of business."
Ironically, Ted Papas, owner of the Greek Cusina, showed up to testify in favor of the ordinance too, even though it technically applies to the sidewalk furniture he's been under pressure to remove from outside his restaurant on the corner of SW 4th and Washington for years.
Meanwhile, Constitutional Rights Lawyer and now, City Commissioner Nick Fish, grilled Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese about the specifics of the law. "How many citations lead to some kind of legal challenge?" he asked. "To my knowledge, none," Reese responded. [Sit/lie cites are dealt with in community court, where legal representation is minimal...the community court happens to be partly funded by the PBA, and people doing community service do it for the PBA's community service arm, Clean & Safe.]
Fish also pressed Reese to tell him what kind of people are generally being cited under the law. "It's a pool of people being cited, for whom generally, officers know that they are homeless?" asked Fish, rhetorically. Reese changed the subject.
City Council Candidate Amanda Fritz grilled mayoral aide Kyle Chisek about why the ordinance isn't being applied to unpermitted sidewalk signs and sidewalk cafes. Chisek told her that fell under a different jurisdiction, but Fritz did not seem entirely convinced.
Meanwhile Andrea Meyer, legislative director for the ACLU of Oregon, said "there were a number of pieces that we were working to implement as part of the SAFE process [meaning benches, restrooms, a day access center for the homeless, along with the ordinance] and we have been successful with one of them." She said the committee would need to look carefully at whether it could recommend continuing to support the ordinance.
Others said they felt the law definitely targeted homeless people. Outreach worker Brian Meyer, who works for New Avenues For Youth, said he was helping a young woman, who was sitting and crying on the sidewalk, when a cop drove up, shouting "you can't sit there," without making any attempt to engage. When Meyer told the cop who he was, he says the cop froze and told him, "disregard everything I just said."
"I felt it was definitely profiling of the girl, based on her being apparently homeless, and of me, because I was sitting with her," said Meyer.
When the ten tables presented back to the group, there was a surprising amount of negativity towards the ordinance.
"The general consensus of my group was the ordinance should be repealed," said the mayor's public safety policy manager, Maria Rubio. "And for the following reasons...people feel their rights are being abused, that homeless people are being shoved across the river, there's an element of where are we supposed to go, people feel the ordinance has been unfairly enforced, there's concern over the lack of enforcement against sidewalk cafes and sandwich boards, the city did provide services, but they are not enough, and there's a sense that there are people who get out of control but that homeless people are being judged by others' bad behavior."
"The ordinance could be repealed, and an ordinance be enacted that specifically addresses aggressive panhandling," said Reese, after saying that different parts of downtown could be "very intimidating at times."
"People tended to think things have not changed much since the ordinance was introduced," said Owen Ron Kelly, of the Lloyd District. "The women's crisis line said they have experienced a 200% increase in calls since last year, because the number 1 reason for women being homeless is as a result of experiencing domestic violence."
"There's not enough resources out there to help people that are out on the street who are being targeted," said Mark Hansen, security manager at the Lloyd Center.
"People feel this law creates an us versus them atmosphere," said Doreen Binder, of Transition Projects, Inc. "They wonder 'what does SAFE really mean?' because it really means that the streets are now safe for people from Beaverton."
"The idea of visibility came up a lot," said Sean Suib from New Avenues for Youth. "The idea is that the ordinance is counter to that, that it represents the desire to make homeless people and social problems invisible."
"There's also concern about the confusion between PPI officers and Portland Police officers," Suib continued. "And what the implication of that is."
Laurie Abraham repeated the retailers' concerns about being spat on. She also said they had experienced "people having sex in front of the business." (I wish those two ladies had told us where they worked.)
"There's a concern that homeless people are being targeted, and at the same time on the service side, that we are not providing all the services homeless people need," said the mayor's staffer, Kyle Chisek.
"People didn't support the ordinance at my table," said Marc Jolin, executive director of JOIN. "They felt it ought to be repealed. They also talked about the ordinance's negative impact on the community, that it increased tensions, and that it wasn't bringing us together and was distracting us from a more cooperative approach to solving some of these problems."
It's now the job of the mayor's committee to take all of the testimony and turn it into a report to council. The mayor's spokesman, Jeremy Van Keuren, could not be specific about when that would be. But given that Fritz and Leonard are both outspoken opponents, and that Fish does appear to be asking some pertinent questions, it might be a good idea for the committee to postpone presenting back to council until after the November election, since the majority of commissioners by that point will most likely be ready to vote the ordinance down.
More in this week's paper.