While the city council has been debating tweaks to the city's exhaustive "prohibited conduct" in parks rules—changes that ban smoking near playgrounds, and keep sex offenders out of public pools—a small group of homeless advocates has been taking a big-picture look at the "prohibited conduct" city code chapter, especially the part that lets cops kick homeless people out of parks.
"Our problem is with the existing ordinance and the fact that it basically allows the police and the Clean and Safe guys [downtown safety patrol] to exclude people from parks for incredibly minor violations," like drinking out of a paper bag or sleeping, says Ed Johnson, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center. "There are somewhere between five and eight people being kicked out of the parks every day." A first-time exclusion lasts 30 days, and jumps to 90 for a second violation, and 180 days for a third.
Johnson and a few other homeless advocates requested data from the city on how many people are kicked out of the city's parks under the exclusion rules, and why they're getting the boot. So far, they've only received the number of people who have gotten an exclusion, but "the data didn't have the reason for the exclusion, and didn't allow us to track if they were homeless or not," Johnson says.
Though the city council will likely approve other changes to the parks rules in the next few weeks, Johnson says he hopes the city will also consider setting up a work group to look at "what I consider to be the bigger fixes." One idea for making the exclusions more equitable: a two-tier system, where serious offenses—drugs, threats, or harassment—mean a 30-day exclusion, and everything else is a warning, followed by a 24-hour exclusion.