In spite of his reputation for process over action, for assembling committees rather than solving problems, Mayor Tom Potter may have scored a major victory this week: Advocates for Portland's business and homeless communities have worked together to craft a revolutionary set of recommendations that would replace Portland's current, controversial Sit-Lie Ordinance with a more holistic approach to dealing with downtown's homeless population.
"It's taken a lot of work, but we're there," says Mike Kuykendall of the Portland Business Alliance (PBA). "To have universal, 100 percent agreement on this in the committee is really remarkable."
Potter convened the Street Access For Everyone (SAFE) committee in May, to "develop complementary and community- driven strategies to address street disorder and sidewalk nuisance problems such as aggressive panhandling, public disorder, low-level criminal activity, intimidation, and harassment." There are representatives from groups like the PBA, the police, the American Civil Liberties Union, and homeless advocates on the committee.
SAFE is almost done writing a set of recommendations, which will be presented to city council on December 13. As expected, the recommendations include a new Sit-Lie Ordinance, which will give police officers the ability to prevent anyone from sitting or lying on the sidewalk within the bounds of fareless square and the Lloyd District ["Stand Up," News, Oct 19]. Other business areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as SE Hawthorne, will be able to apply for inclusion in the ordinance, and the committee says only specially trained officers will be enforcing the ordinance.
But the recommendations don't stop there: What's unusual and surprising about the committee's recommendations is their emphasis on a well-rounded approach to dealing with Portland's homeless.
The committee's three other recommendations include a day-access center catering to the needs of 150 people, possibly at the Portland Rescue Mission on the west end of the Burnside Bridge, with $57,000 of the PBA's money. The committee also recommends more public seating and benches within the bounds of the ordinance, plus implementation of a public restroom plan crafted by Portland State University.
"This is about preserving the energy and dynamic of an area where homeless people already congregate. It's not just about benches, or trying to move people out of an area, but providing further opportunities for them to be present there," says Andrea Meyer of the ACLU, who sat on the SAFE committee. "It would be very upsetting to me if they felt they were no longer welcome."
In other words, the committee is not trying to sweep Portland's streets clean of homeless people—instead, the set of policies will give them better access to the sidewalks, without causing a public nuisance.
The recommendations also call for the establishment of a safe center for day laborers, where they can sign in for work and be picked up for it without risk of harassment by anti-immigration protestors.
The committee even suggested the council "evaluate the feasibility of implementing a sleep pilot project... in coordination with parks bureau and police," to look at opportunities for homeless people to sleep safely and legally in Portland's parks.
While the recommendations may be utopian in their scope, they still have to get through city council in December, and members of the committee will be crossing their fingers for the council to adopt them all.
And in the eyes and words of the committee, it's all or nothing: "We must emphasize that the work-group consensus is founded on all four [recommendations] being implemented with equal priority and urgency," the draft recommendations read. That means in the committee's eyes, there can be no new Sit-Lie Ordinance without a day center, and no day center without benches or restrooms. Now, it's up to Mayor Potter to convince the council to sign off on the entire package.
It could be a tough sell. The last suggestion—to allow sleeping in parks—is unlikely to sit well with Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Parks bureau policy states that "sleeping overnight or camping is simply not an appropriate use of park land." Saltzman refused to comment on the recommendations until they are before council in December.