Street Roots Director Israel Bayer announced yesterday that the paper has joined the Portland Business Alliance on the Street Roots blog. Bayer says the paper is now hoping to get PBA member businesses to fund its hugely successful Rose City Resource Guide, as a result of joining the organization. But he denies that the expected contributions will affect the paper's editorial positions.
The PBA funds private police officers in downtown Portland, and has been the driving force behind the controversial sit/lie ordinance since its inception. Street Roots, meanwhile, has lobbied for more oversight of the private police, and continues to regard the sit/lie ordinance as "inhumane and a gross violation of individual’s civil rights," says Bayer.
The resource guide was initially funded by the city in 2007 as a by-product of the sit/lie ordinance—under the logic that if you're going to move people along, you need to tell them where they can go. Street Roots faced scrutiny back then for taking $30,000 in city cash while ostensibly resisting the sit/lie law in its editorial pages.
The resource guide has since grown from an 80 page book in 2007 to 140 pages in 2009, now including Clackamas and Washington Counties. Street Roots has also partnered with United Way and the city's 211 non-emergency line to increase funding from $30,000 in 2007 to a projected $77,500 this year. Street Roots, too, has grown its revenues from 2007. From $133,000 in 2007 (according to its tax return) to $231,765 in 2008 (according to its annual report). Bayer says that the paper's donations and revenue "have not been affected by recession trends" in 2009.
"Street Roots will in no way, shape or form be beholden to the Alliance or will it change our editorial and social justice presence on important issues effecting people experiencing homelessness and poverty citywide," writes Bayer, on the paper's blog. He also adds: "Homeless groups can’t flinch or even think about working with the Portland Business Alliance in open for fear of being called sell outs or talked about in the press as being lap dogs for big interest."
So, is Bayer a lap dog for big interest? "That's a silly question," says Bayer. "Our editorial content speaks for itself. We don't stay away from these issues, and nor will we."
"We're excited to have Street Roots as a member," says Megan Doern of the PBA. "Our membership is about meeting other non profits and businesses in the region, and we hope that Street Roots is better able to engage and work with local businesses through the membership."
"We've been working with them for a number of years and they do a lot of great work for homeless individuals and so do we, and I think it's great that they're joining," she says.
Update, 1:45: It seems Bayer isn't the only homeless advocate considering a change of approach towards these issues. Here's Patrick Nolen in city council on Wednesday: