LOUDLY FRETTING OVER a pile of drug crimes, scuffles, and sanitation woes that even some campers now say have grown too big to ignore, Portland government looks to be as close as ever to hitting the kill switch on Occupy Portland.
In an "open letter" released Monday, November 7—more than four weeks after Occupy sprang up in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares—Mayor Sam Adams demanded action "in the coming days," stopping just shy of setting a deadline.
"The way things are operating now is not sustainable," wrote Adams, whose office, according to recent emails obtained by the Mercury, has been consulting with social services agencies while also keenly tracking how cops and politicians in other cities have cleared out their camps.
Then, on Tuesday, November 8, police released statistics (without accompanying context) indicating an increase in crime downtown, with Commander Bob Day appearing at a public safety event and saying, according the Oregonian, that police need to "develop an exit strategy." Police Chief Mike Reese on Thursday, November 3, already ordered officers working Occupy Portland marches to keep riot gear ready at all times, after an officer was pushed into a bus during a march on November 2.
The campsites, and Occupy's free hot meals, have become a haven for homeless Portlanders in recent weeks—but especially street kids. That influx has helped turn the fast-growing Occupy into something it wasn't equipped to become: a shelter for the mentally ill, drunk, and addicted. And the accompanying rise in police calls and fights has put the camp on edge and driven away some of the activists who had been camping since the site opened October 6.
City pressure isn't coming just from Adams and the police. Monday, the Mercury first reported that Parks Commissioner Nick Fish had pulled all parks workers from the camps because of safety concerns. And there's a November 9 fire bureau deadline for a major reorganization.
Occupiers have gradually come to grips with the problem.
Safety committee members first floated disbanding the camps, as the Mercury first reported, last month. On Friday, November 4, a few occupiers sat down with Chief Mike Reese to talk safety issues, and the next night, a few dozen more huddled among themselves for a deeper discussion of how to make the camp safer without also turning their back on some of the very people they say have been victimized most by our current political system.
Some occupiers, speaking privately, cast that meeting as a "holy-shit" last-ditch effort to keep the camp from slipping away.
Jordan LeDoux, a media volunteer, says Occupy's general assembly has begun discussing potentially unpopular ideas like limiting grub only to occupiers who volunteer, and working more closely with cops.
"Generally, I believe the mayor's office is acting in good faith and that these are issues that can and will be addressed," LeDoux says, "and will be addressed in a timely manner."
Dennis Morrow, executive director of Janus Youth Programs, wrote to the mayor's office this month that "virtually all the homeless youth in downtown have moved" to Occupy Portland and that Janus' outreach workers are finding clients who have left treatment and refuse to return.
"They built a community really quickly, and I don't think anybody saw it coming," he told the Mercury. "Now they're in a very challenging situation. They're facing, in a microcosm, what government faces."