AT 9:30 LAST WEDNESDAY morning, June 11, homeless people filled every seat around the edge of the city council chambers.
One woman wore an "I'm Homeless and I Vote!" pin and everyone held small black-and-white postcards. As part of the continuing protest against the city's controversial anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances (which make it illegal to sit or sleep on downtown streets at night), homeless advocacy groups Sisters of the Road and Street Roots asked Portlanders to write cards demanding the city repeal the two homeless-targeting laws. Two weeks after they began collecting, the groups arrived at city hall during the open council meeting to present their supportive bounty: 1,950 cards.
"Our city's council—you, the guidepost of our community—admits that we do not have enough low-income housing units or shelter beds to house everyone who sleeps outside," said Sisters of the Road community organizer Patrick Nolen, as supporters unfurled long chains of postcards around the council chambers and through the audience. "Yet we continue to criminalize people for merely meeting basic human needs: sleep and rest."
The months-long sit-lie protest has created a feeling of solidarity among Portland's homeless community and turned some homeless people into political activists. Laura Brown traveled across town to represent the members of homeless encampment Dignity Village, saying she would never forget the hardship of sleeping on downtown streets. "[The police] come and nudge you with their feet and say, 'Get up or we'll ticket you.' So you get up but there is nowhere to go, so you wander around the streets with your bedroll," she said.
A homeless man named Randy noted dryly that the police allowed "normal people" to camp out on the street for the Rose Parade "but they never let the homeless sleep on the streets. They want downtown Portland to look like Lake Oswego."
As the homeless advocacy groups meet with city council members this month to discuss repealing the ordinances, the council is split in opinion. Two members, Sam Adams and Dan Saltzman, support the ordinances, meanwhile Randy Leonard does not support the sit-lie ordinance and Nick Fish is undecided. "I won't take a position on this until I have met with all the stakeholders," Fish says.
Both Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis, the two candidates in November's city commissioner election run-off, oppose the measure, so the council could be facing a tight vote in the fall.