TWENTY-SEVEN HOMELESS people slept on the sidewalk outside city hall on Monday night, April 28, and remained there into the day on Tuesday, in protest of a series of recent bridge sweeps by the Portland Police Bureau.
The group, which says it plans to stay outside city hall until the politicians inside find them somewhere to live, started camping outside city hall last Friday, April 25. By Monday, numbers had grown from nine, to 16, to almost 30, and the protesters said they plan to stay for the foreseeable future.
Here's the rub: Because they're engaged in a First Amendment-protected protest, the homeless people are exempt from the city's new sit-lie law, and the police are therefore powerless to move them on during the day.
At first, people were sleeping underneath city hall's portico, but they were asked to move along on Monday night by Wackenhut security guards and the police.
Then the homeless crowd said they were formally protesting the city's use of bridge sweeps to move homeless people along ["Watchdogging," In the Shadows, News, April 17], so the cops agreed that the protesters could sleep on the sidewalk out front and that they wouldn't bother them all night.
"City hall is the safest place right now for homeless people to be," said Arthur Rios Sr., who is speaking on behalf of the protesters and is formerly homeless himself—he met several of the protesters at Sisters of the Road Café.
"Because if you're under the Burnside Bridge or the Hawthorne Bridge or the Steel Bridge, you'll be harassed by Portland Patrol, Inc., Clean and Safe, and the police. We feel like if we don't let the community know why we're out here, are we getting the message out?" he continues.
"This isn't camping," Rios continues. "This is a protest."
To prove it, two cardboard signs stood next to the protesters, reading "Protest Rules." Among the rules were "no foul words," to treat each other with "gentle personalism," and for the protesters to clean up after each other.
Former Commissioner Erik Sten staffer Jamaal Folsom—who's been working under the mayor's office since Sten's departure—went out to meet with the protesters on Tuesday morning, April 29. "We went out and talked to them and we're trying to figure out what we can do to help," he says. "They did ask for quality and decent affordable housing."
"We're happy to see them doing this, and in a nonviolent manner," says Patrick Nolen, community organizer at homeless nonprofit Sisters of the Road.