It's the one night a year Portland openly allows sidewalk camping, and the city's homeless are on top of it.
For the third year running, homeless rights advocates have pitched dozens of tents along SW Fourth, a bit of judo that exploits the city's practice of letting parade-goers stake out a spot the night before the Grand Floral Parade.
As of 1:15 pm, something like 60 tents had already sprouted up along six block faces on Fourth, with more ready as participants make their way to the area (or, as one organizer put it, after they're swept from beneath the bridges to give Portland a false air of sterility for the weekend's festivities).
"The point is letting people who are normally looking at bushes and bridge tops see a parade," says organizer Ibrahim Mubarak, running point on the operation from 4th and Stark. "The city allows camping on the sidewalk one day of the year. Any other time someone does it as a means of survival, they are criminalized."
The "Pitch a Tent" effort began in 2011, and served as a springboard for the plucky Right 2 Dream Too, a "rest area" for the homeless perched under the Chinatown gate since October of that year. ("After everyone left (in 2011), we didn't have anywhere to put them," Mubarak said.)
The protest, if that's what you want to call it, is poignant in its way—it certainly makes for a strong visual representation of the city's homeless. And it's well-run, with visible security personnel on every block helping people into tents. But it's doubtful the effort will move City Council to rescind a ban on camping, as protestors have demanded, or dissuade Mayor Charlie Hales from his plans to fight aggressive panhandling now that the legislature has dashed sit-lie hopes.
Mubarak and his co-organizers have their own proposal: "Give us a designated piece of land and a building, and we can put a dent in people sleeping on the street."
Business-owners have mostly accepted the campers, Mubarak says. Cops haven't been as open. According to organizers, six officers approached the encampment earlier today, claiming the tents were against the law.
"They don't know their own code," Mubarak says. "They call in and check and guess what? We're right."