Portland's controversial sit-lie ordinance appears to be targeting a distinct group of homeless youth (or "street kids"), according to the latest enforcement statistics from the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) committee.
It's true that the ordinance has overwhelmingly been used to target people without a fixed address: 62 people were issued verbal sit-lie warnings between August 30 and December 28 last year, only nine of whom supplied an address to the police officer involved.
Over that same period, only 10 citations were issued under the ordinance—citations are a step up from a verbal warning, and can lead to a fine or community service. Of those, eight citations were written to people born in the 1980s.
"The behavior of many of the teenagers and young adults who spend their days on Portland streets was the impetus behind the SAFE ordinance, as many businesses were impacted by the negative impression they were giving downtown," Mike Kuykendall, Vice President of downtown services for the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and co-chair of the SAFE committee, tells the Mercury. "So it makes sense this group is receiving a majority of the warnings and citations."
"The folks we're really having a problem with are these Road Warrior youth," said Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese, at a meeting of the SAFE group last Thursday, February 7. "I think we have to do some kind of outreach to them. Some actually want citations so that they can challenge them in court."
One man, Correy Gene Douglas Newman, 26, has been cited three times at the corner of SW 6th and Alder—outside the Rite Aid, a well-known hangout for the kids. Newman is challenging all three of his citations in circuit court on February 20.
Meanwhile Adam Ray Kuntz, 23; Samantha Bowen, 22; and Amber Anderson, who was born in 1980 but has since died, have all been convicted and fined $347—the maximum fine allowed—for sitting in the same spot.
Their citations prompted a discussion at last Thursday's meeting of the SAFE oversight group.
"I'm noticing that a lot of these [citations] are for people aged 25 and under," said Sean Suib, associate executive director of New Avenues for Youth (NAFY)—a nonprofit which gears its services to the street kids. "I'm wondering whether there should be some specialized service designed for these youth?"
Most of the citations in questions were written between noon and 2 pm, when NAFY is closed. NAFY does outreach from 8-10 pm on Wednesday and Thursday nights, said Suib, and Outside In, another youth-oriented service provider, offers an 8-10 pm slot on Sunday and Monday nights. But the ordinance is only in effect from 7 am to 9 pm, and the street kids are reluctant to use the day services provided by SAFE to adults.
"We've experienced turf issues when you get that population in there," said Marvin Mitchell, who runs the SAFE group's adult temporary access center at the Julia West House on SW 13th and Alder.
Nevertheless, funding more day services for the street kids with SAFE money doesn't appeal to everyone.
"There's a perception that the youth system actually already has under-used capacity," said Marc Jolin, of homeless outreach group JOIN. "I'm skeptical as to whether any SAFE-funded project would be very appealing to these folks."
"If we build it, will they come?" asked Kuykendall.
Others speculate that the PBA would be reluctant to give more of its money to support a group of people who are often cited as blighting downtown's image in the eyes of suburban shoppers.
"The PBA is in a difficult position," says Rene Denfeld, who wrote a controversial book about a murder among Portland's street kids called All God's Children, published last year. "Everybody wants to promote downtown as a place to shop, and it's not good business to have roaming groups of street kids. I don't think the PBA wants to acknowledge the problem, and on the other hand, they want to solve it."
Admittedly, not all the troubling citations are against youth. One woman was cited despite saying her feet were swollen from standing all day. Another was cited without a warning, coming out of Rite Aid where her friend was already being cited, while another man was asked for his identification by a guard working for the PBA's rent-a-cop firm, Portland Patrol, Inc.—PPI guards aren't supposed to ask for ID.
"The ordinance is something that all homeless people should be concerned about, and probably the entire city," says Patrick Nolen, community organizer for Sisters of the Road.
"But at least in terms of perception, it does seem to be targeting one segment of our population," Nolen continues.