A year ago, Smith saved enough money to take a Greyhound bus from Daytona to Portland, where he has family. Here, he joined the approximate 4,000 other homeless people (according to the most recent census) in the greater Portland area. He now edits poetry for the homeless newspaper Street Roots, and though he's still living on the street, he hopes to line up an apartment by fall. He's also planning to enroll at PSU. He's terrified, however, at the damage the City's proposed Sit/Lie Ordinance could do to a person who, like him, is trying to establish residency for the first time. "If I were to get a large fine, just for sleeping on the streets " Smith worries, "I don't know what I'd do. I could never afford that."
The Sit/Lie Ordinance is a small piece of Title 14, the City Code that governs "public order and policy." In a standard updating of the code, the Office of the City Attorney began a rewrite Title 14 several years ago. "Our first draft of Title 14 had some minor revisions dealing with public interference," explained Pete Kastign, Deputy City Attorney, "and then we received a letter from APP [Association for Portland Progress], which brought up Seattle's provision."
That provision makes it illegal to sit or lie on the streets of Seattle. The APP, an association of downtown businesses who present themselves as "the primary advocate for enhancement of its economic vitality and livability," wanted a similar ordinance to be put in place in Portland. Working with the Mayor's Office and the City Attorney, they generated the "sit/lie" clause--rules that would makes it illegal for a person to "stand, sit, or lie on a public right of way," if it would cause a pedestrian to "reasonably take action to move around or avoid" that person.
But the ACLU objected on the grounds that the ordinance was written with little public input and that, if enacted, it would be unconstitutional. In response, the City Attorney's Office postponed approving these changes until more consideration could be given to them.
Though the process has been long and bureaucratic, City Council has finally set a date when non-controversial changes to Title 14 will be discussed. Although these discussions are only tangential to the Sit/Lie Ordinance, they mark the true beginnings of the debate.
"The initial steps are being taken (to bring the Sit/Lie Ordinance to the table for consideration)," explains Andrea Meyer, a lawyer from the ACLU. "The Mayor's Office made it very clear that they want to get the technical changes through," she adds. That hearing is set for May 29.