Turning his gaze toward a post-budget priority laid out in his State of the City address—tackling the separate-but-related concepts of "homelessness" and "panhandling"—Mayor Charlie Hales is meeting right now with a group of advocates and others he hopes will guide his work on the issue.
The 90-minute meeting is listed on his weekly calendar only as "Homeless Task Force."
But Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, confirms it's the start of something bigger. In response to a Mercury request for more information sent yesterday, Haynes this morning sent the following:
The mayor is going to make homelessness and panhandling one of the priorities for the second half of this year. And his first question is: What don’t we know that we need to know? He wants to bring in people who have studied the issue and who can bring the mayor and his staff up to speed quickly. The last thing he wants is yet another committee and another report to sit on a shelf. That’s why the “task force” idea—an informal, ad hoc group to provide a fast primer on Homelessness.
Sidewalks and panhandling returned as front-burner issues in Portland this year after the Portland Business Alliance wrote a bill, HB 2963, meant to revive unconstitutional sit-lie laws in Oregon. That bill ultimately failed to win votes in the state Senate for several reasons—among the biggest being its status as statewide bill aimed at a primarily Portland issue.
Hales didn't formally support the bill, but he certainly nodded to it (and may even have intimated his support privately, if some observers are correct). He did signaled strongly during his State of the City speech that he'd pivot to sidewalks and homelessness issues once he knitted together the budget, something that he put a bow on last week.
In comments he gave me after his April 30 speech, Hales said he supported more "reasonable authority" over Portland's sidewalks but made sure to also say he didn't want to pursue "just the enforcement side," adding that he also wanted to look into "social services." He made a stab at that in his budget, giving housing advocates most of they wanted. But some have wondered if that was a sop meant to soften the blow before he turned to help the PBA.
Asked if this afternoon's meeting was public, so I could attend, Haynes told me it wasn't. So we won't immediately know what was said, or by whom. Including the mayor. Haynes emailed an explanation along with his denial:
The mayor doesn’t want it to be [public], so that participants can shake a fist and howl, “You’re wrong!” and know that that kind of honest information is exactly what he wants/needs to hear. Some folks will do that in a private meeting but not in public.
I've asked, at least, for a roster of invitees and attendees. I'll update if and when it comes.