A LONG-SIMMERING code enforcement fight over the future of Right 2 Dream Too—the well-managed rest area for dozens of homeless Portlanders at NW 4th and Burnside—is finally heating up after months of uncertainty amid a low-key city crackdown.
Hoping to escape thousands of dollars in fines issued by the Portland Bureau of Development Services, Right 2 Dream Too and its landlords on Monday, December 10, took the decisive step on filing a lawsuit against both the bureau and the commissioner who leads it, Dan Saltzman.
The suit, filed on world Human Rights Day, demands Saltzman stop treating the site like an illegal "recreational" campground and more like, instead, Northeast Portland's Dignity Village—a state-sanctioned and city-permitted campsite providing transitional housing. As of September, according to the suit, the city had assessed $5,349 in fees and other penalties on the camp's landlords.
"Right 2 Dream Too is not a Boy Scouts camp, it's not a Girl Scouts camp, it's not a recreational camp," attorney Mark Kramer told a crowd of nearly 100 supporters gathered outside city hall. "It's a temporary shelter for homeless people because the city cannot meet the needs of the homeless in our society."
Coincidentally, R2DToo's lawsuit comes just as one of its more prominently placed foes, developer David Gold, steps up his own campaign on Saltzman to have the place cleared out ["Understandably Upset," Oct 20, 2011].
Gold and his partners—including John Jay of Wieden+Kennedy and Ace Hotel's Alex Calderwood—have borrowed millions in city redevelopment cash to turn the derelict Grove Hotel across NW 4th into a youth hostel and restaurant row.
In a move first reported by Street Roots earlier this month, Gold tried to force Saltzman's hand by circulating partially filled-out nuisance-complaint forms to neighbors, and he also wrote a letter complaining he was struggling to woo tenants. A copy of the letter, obtained by the Mercury, shows Gold is so serious about the crackdown that he wants anyone who actually does his bidding to send him an email. It reads, politely, "Please confirm."
Saltzman's office, however, seems content with using a light touch—other than insisting on piling up fines. It's unclear, though, whether the lawsuit will change that. When a group of protesters tried to hand-deliver a copy of the legal complaint after Monday's protest—sparking a clash with city hall security guards that briefly saw riot cops suiting up—Saltzman was out of the building.
R2DToo organizers had been hoping to avoid a court fight. Kramer sent a letter to Saltzman and Housing Commissioner Nick Fish this summer that he says led to two meetings but "no resolution" about waiving the fines or finding a different site for the camp to continue flourishing.
The biggest roadblock is Saltzman's palpable distaste for R2DToo's main landlords, Michael Wright—an ex-con with a history of code battles and legal fights with the city—which is fueling much of his reticence.
Meanwhile, organizer Ibrahim Mubarak says dozens of people have found housing and jobs after staying at R2DToo—making the most of a chance to get a good, safe night's sleep. Groups from Ashland and Eugene have both come up Interstate 5 to study up and take the site's model back to where they live.
Says Mubarak, "That lets us know it works."