The Portland Business Alliance (PBA) has volunteered to give city council $150,000—and all the council has to do in return is make it illegal to sit or lie on downtown's sidewalks.
The PBA is apparently hoping this extra money will make up for the council's failure to fund a day-access center for 150 homeless people, as it had previously promised before the Sit-Lie Ordinance was passed.
The extra money—$75,000 this year and $75,000 for 2007-'08, was offered by the PBA at a meeting of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee on Thursday, April 12. The oversight committee was established in January, with the task of making sure the mayor's SAFE workgroup provided the necessary services for Portland's homeless before enacting the new law.
The day-access center was seen as one of the most important recommendations of the workgroup, along with more benches and restrooms downtown. But as it stands, the committee has only been able to ensure day-access services—like showers and somewhere to sit—for 40-60 people at the Julia West House on SW 13th, which has just one shower, and costs $66,000 a year to fund.
The committee has looked with apparent desperation at other sites for a temporary day-access center since January—including the now-defunct Burger King on NW Broadway and Burnside, and the Portland Rescue Mission at the west end of the Burnside Bridge. Both were ruled out.
Instead of funding more day-access space as it promised, the PBA now wants to fund showers and lockers to the tune of an extra $9,000 a year, at a location to be determined—conditional on the ordinance being enacted as soon as possible.
"The PBA board's only contingency [for giving this money] is that they want to make sure all the recommendations of SAFE are being met," said Mike Kuykendall, the PBA's head of safety and security, referring to the ordinance. "So, if one of those went away, then the [money] would go away."
But for some on the committee, this looked like a bait and switch.
"The money is coming because we have an ordinance that says you have to get people off the street," said Doreen Binder, executive director of Transition Projects, Inc.
"The criteria for having the law was a day-access center for what I thought was 150 people," said Patrick Nolen, community organizer for Sisters of the Road. "We have to be able to do that."
"But it has emerged that we're not going to be able to accomplish that," responded Kuykendall. "Now we're saying that maybe 40-60 a day at the Julia West House, plus showers and lockers is in compliance with the committee's recommendations, broadly."
Despite these concerns, the committee nevertheless agreed to form a sub-group to decide exactly how many showers and lockers would meet its new requirements, and to reconvene on Thursday, April 19 to send a letter to council urging that the ordinance be enacted.
Homeless advocates are unsurprised by the outcome of the SAFE process. "Honestly, it went how I expected it to go," says Nolen, adding that Kuykendall of the PBA has been as fair and honest as anybody could be while representing his constituency.
The SAFE oversight group is unlikely to face too much questioning from city council before it agrees to pass the new law—but the committee's failure to meet its own requirements, and subsequently, moving its own goalposts, is of concern to some.
"A further weakening of the pieces required as part of the package to pass the ordinance gives us concerns," says Andrea Meyer, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "But we had already opposed the ordinance. We certainly do not want to see the day-access center and restrooms go away, but we could never support an ordinance that criminalizes a lot of behavior."
Meyer also has concerns about who will be enforcing the ordinance. Officers from Portland Patrol, Inc. ["Portland's Private Police," News, March 29], which is funded by the PBA, will be able to give verbal warnings to homeless people sitting or lying in the street.
The PBA and PPI have refused the Mercury's repeated requests to comment on this issue.