City Commissioner Randy Leonard may have gained much attention last week by calling for a ban on people taping their parade spots on the sidewalk, but he's also engaged this week in a more important fight for the rights of Portland's homeless.
The mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) committee—comprised of homeless advocates and representatives of the downtown business community—has been working on its controversial sidewalk obstruction ordinance for over a year, promising to make more services like benches, restrooms, and a day-access center available for the homeless in exchange for taking away their right to sit or lie down on downtown sidewalks.
But with enforcement ready to start last Saturday, June 9, the SAFE group had compromised on every service aspect of the ordinance: Not a single new restroom had been built, there were only six of a planned 25 new benches installed, and a day-access center originally intended to house 150 people could only take 40-60 ["Sit-Lie Gets Stalled," News, June 7].
"The enforcement portion of this effort is being undertaken imminently despite the absence of adequate day-access facilities, benches, and public restrooms," wrote Leonard, in a letter to his fellow council members last Tuesday, June 5, criticizing the "hasty, enforcement-centric approach currently being undertaken by the police bureau and the Portland Business Alliance (PBA)," and asking council to vote this Wednesday, June 13, to delay enforcement of the ordinance until the service aspects originally promised by the SAFE group are in place.
At press time, the chances of Leonard's resolution passing were unknown—the two commissioners most likely to support it, Sam Adams and Erik Sten, were still undecided. By supporting the sit-lie law, Sten has managed to gain financial support from Mayor Tom Potter for an eventual, permanent day-access center. "I'm looking at this in a pragmatic sense," Sten said, "and I'm still getting hit with facts on both sides."
Leonard has also hit back at the homeless advocates on the committee, telling the Mercury that unless they force the PBA to fulfill its service commitment as part of the SAFE process, they will find themselves bargaining without any chips—during the SAFE process, the only advantage homeless advocates had was their ability to give their permission for the sit-lie ordinance.
"It seems to me that the people at the table advocating for the homeless seem to have lost their way a little bit," says Leonard. "It's great to be at the table forging relationships, but when I am bargaining, I never forget that the purpose of those relationships is to get stuff done."
Leonard asks: "How can you bargain away treating people with dignity and respect, even if it's only for three or four months until the services are in place?"
Some of the homeless advocates on the committee have opposed the ordinance all along, while others have seen it as a way to bargain for money from the PBA. The PBA, for its part, has put up $150,000 for day-access services, but says that money is tied to enforcement of the ordinance ["Buying Your Rights," News, April 19].
"Well, if they want to walk away from the table, then perhaps we'll say, let's forget the ordinance," says Leonard. "Sometimes, during the negotiation process, you have to employ a little brinksmanship to hold people to their commitments."
Sisters of the Road, which is represented on the SAFE committee, released a statement on Tuesday saying the organization "opposes and will continue to oppose the Sidewalk Obstructions Ordinance." The statement added that their constituents in the homeless community believe "that not much looks different in their lives since the inception of the SAFE Oversight Committee in January 2007."
That could be about to change.