PORTLAND'S MOST outspoken leader against the city's controversial sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances has been fired from his job at homeless advocacy group Sisters of the Road.
Patrick Nolen was let go as Sisters' community organizer—a move that might greatly affect the sit-lie debate as the ordinance comes up for a crucial city review in May.
Nolen was often Sisters' de facto spokesperson on sit-lie issues, sitting in and speaking up frequently at meetings of the city's Street Access for Everyone committee, which drafted the ordinance back in 2007. Last June, Nolen coordinated a protest delivering 1,950 postcards written in opposition to the ordinance to city council.
The ordinance sunsets this June, but there is a strong coalition of business, law enforcement, and pro-tourism interests who support the policy. City council will make the final decision about whether to reinstate the ordinance in May, but homeless advocates will likely face an uphill battle against such a move especially with a primary organizer of the opposition being cut loose.
Nolen's pink-slip letter from Sisters lists a long and confusing narrative of interpersonal conflicts and confrontations within the nonprofit. Supervisors reprimanded Nolen five times within the past 16 months for various behavior infractions, says the letter. The final straw came when another employee told Sisters directors that Nolen had lied to and intimidated him, according to the note. An employee also raised an allegation of racism against Nolen.
"Most of this is patently untrue," says Nolen, whose firing became official in early March following an unsuccessful appeal to Sisters' board of directors. Nolen believes Sisters was searching for a reason to fire him for months because of personality conflicts with his bosses. In Nolen's eyes, some of the conflicts resulted from his dogged activism against the sit-lie ordinance, which bans anyone from sitting on downtown streets during the day.
"There's been a few times when I felt like they would rather have small victories than big ones," says Nolen, referring specifically to a time when his boss showed him a heated letter from the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) about his work. "It was made clear that the PBA didn't like me in my job."
The day after Nolen was fired, his supervisor, Varner Seaman, quit Sisters, allegedly upset over the handling of Nolen's case. Seaman did not return multiple requests for comment.
Sisters of the Road Executive Director Monica Beemer could not comment on any aspect of Nolen's firing because it is a private personnel issue, she said.