Police have stated the area is rife with low-level criminal activity, and although they've provided no hard data, the theory runs that these crimes are being committed by the homeless men and women who call the I-405 corridor their home. Last Thursday, most homeless advocates were convinced the sweeps were going to begin that night and were scrambling to slow the cops down. Later in the evening, after some intensive lobbying, the police suspended their plan.
"It's a small victory at this point," exclaimed Genny Nelson at Sisters of the Road, the tough-love homeless organization that provides hot meals and advocacy.
Yet, in spite of the brief reprieve, the plan to sweep out the I-405 corridor has not been scrapped altogether. From all hearsay accounts (Rosie Sizer, the commander for the Central Precinct, did not return repeated phone calls), the sweeps have only been suspended until Sunday, December 7th. What the police hope to accomplish between then and now, and what changes they plan to make, is unclear.
Under the current plan, officers will order any homeless person in the area along I-405 from SW Mill to NW Johnson to leave. Like the exclusion zones, the police will issue citations and have the authority to book and process any repeat offenders. According to homeless advocates, the police plan to keep a database of the homeless who violate these orders.
Moreover, complain homeless advocates, the threatened sweep remains a distraction from longer-term plans. For the past year, council member Erik Sten's staff has been working with advocates to pull together a long-term plan to end homelessness in Portland.
"Why is the [police] bureau choosing now to implement this?" asked Nelson. "Why implement this in the coldest season of the year? And why, when we're launching a 10-year project to end homelessness?"
As part of those proposed new programs and projects, Sisters of the Road has been conducting extensive interviews with men and women who were previously homeless. From the success stories and street-level information they've gleaned, Sisters hopes to provide some hard-earned wisdom about how to help people transition from street living to permanent housing. They hope this information will form a blueprint for the new 10-year plan. So far they've conducted 550 interviews.
"We're alarmed," said another homeless advocate who asked to remain anonymous. Last year during similar negotiations, Mayor Vera Katz implemented a sit-lie ordinance without first notifying homeless advocates. Even now that betrayal does not sit easily.
"The focus has been on short-term solutions while the city moves for a ten-year plan," said the advocate. He went on to raise the question of whether city hall is purposefully trying to derail the process--but citing the "sensitive nature of negotiations with city hall," he was unwilling to propose an answer to that question.