In this week's Mercury, you'll find a lengthy interview with Patricia Gardner, president of the Pearl Neighborhood District Association. Gardner sat down with me the afternoon after her group officially voted to spend $10,000 from its scrupulously saved contingency fund on a potential legal fight against Commissioner Fritz's plan to move Right 2 Dream Too beneath a Broadway Bridge ramp.
In that interview, Gardner very reasonably said her neighbors would rather see the homeless rest area move into a Pearl building instead of the lot, with their tents, that Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales have picked out. Their biggest beef is over process, and whether the city's respecting it, and not, she says, over the mere arrival of dozens of homeless Portlanders.
Yesterday, about the same time as our interview went up, Street Roots director Israel Bayer posted a column quoting from audio of that September 12 meeting, something he says was passed on to his publication. That audio largely matches up with Gardner told me when we talked. But certain quotes shed a bit more light on the PDNA's motives and strategy, and they're worth pointing out.
“What we want to do is focus in on the politics. That's the quickest and easiest way to get rid of this.”
Gardner told the crowd. “My opinion is that their lawyer at the city is telling them to avoid process so they don't open up. That's our challenge moving forward.”
“What we've been telling people to do is write to their commissioners,” says Gardner. “Let's talk about
process, the lack of following their own laws. That's really the root of the issue here.”
Gardner goes on to talk about the neighborhood being the victim in this process, “Because of the misunderstanding of this neighborhood, we will never be understood. I don't care if your income is zero. You live in the Pearl, you must be rich. It doesn't matter. You're never going to win the argument. Everybody starts from nothing. We all started from nothing. We have great empathy.”
Bayer, responding to those remarks correctly acknowledges that the Pearl is not a monolithic bastion of wealth, no matter how posh some of its boutiques and condo towers really are. Neighbors have welcomed several low-income and affordable buildings. And Gardner gave me Census data showing the Pearl, compared to the rest of Portland, with lower median rents, a lower median household income, and higher rates of residents below poverty.
Bayer also notes that Gardner and others are talking loudly about the need to focus on longer-term policy changes on housing and homelessness. But he's urged the neighbors not to shut off the possibility of Right 2 Dream Too as an immediate and important stopgap, reminding them, also, that few Portlanders openly welcomed Street Roots when it started up 15 years ago. Now SR is one of the biggest advocates for social services in city hall.
Like them or not, R2DToo is an example of a group of people experiencing homelessness that are pulling themselves up from the bootstraps. They may not be providing the living conditions that most Portlanders might consider healthy, or that Gardner or some politicians speak of, but believe me, the conditions at R2DToo are gold compared to being alone and isolated on the streets....
Change is seldom easy. When Street Roots began, many businesses disapproved, some people in the city were disinterested or against it altogether. Others saw a good idea. Fifteen years later, and having helped house hundreds of people and offer an alternative income to those who have nothing, we have a positive effect on Portland every single day. There’s no reason to believe that Right 2 Dream Too can’t do the same.