THE CONTROVERSIAL sit-lie ordinance has found an unlikely champion in City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. With the ordinance due to sunset on June 8, the Mercury reported last week that council was split 3-2 against renewing the law ["Sit, Lie, Disappear," News, April 23].
City Commissioners Nick Fish and Randy Leonard joined Fritz in opposing a renewal, at least until a dispute can be settled over funding of a Resource Access Center for the homeless in Old Town. Fritz, meanwhile, had voiced human rights concerns about the law.
Mayor Sam Adams' staffers told anti sit-lie activists last Tuesday, April 21, that he planned to push for a renewal of the law regardless of opposition. That was until Fritz filed a surprise council resolution last Thursday, April 23, calling for the renewal of the law until October, while she conducts a public involvement and outreach program about the ordinance with Fish.
Fritz released a statement regarding her decision last week, but did not immediately return inquiries seeking comment. Instead, she spent time underneath the Hawthorne Bridge on Sunday talking with the homeless, and on Tuesday, April 28, meeting with Street Roots newspaper and other homeless advocates to discuss her approach.
"If the council were to hold a public hearing to decide whether to renew or sunset the sidewalk obstruction ordinance in the next few weeks, lots of people would show up to talk for three minutes," Fritz wrote in her statement. "But serial three-minute monologues are not an effective way to evaluate and problem solve on complex issues."
"I'm hoping to find out more and educate and learn from the community all over Portland in the process, so together we can make the decision in September," Fritz told the Mercury, Tuesday afternoon.
"We're disappointed and frustrated," says Sisters of the Road Executive Director Monica Beemer, her nonprofit having led a campaign against the law since its inception in 2007. "We feel like the ordinance is clearly a civil rights violation for people experiencing homelessness, and there has been lots of public process on this."
Indeed, Fritz and Fish were both present as council candidates at an official outreach session on the ordinance organized by the city's Street Access for Everyone committee last August. They were also present at a truth commission hearing on the ordinance during the same month organized by Sisters of the Road.
The ordinance's skewed enforcement against the homeless has also been well documented in a city report, which showed 133 of 170 people warned or cited between August 2007 and September 2008 said they were homeless.
Regardless, Fritz's process-oriented compromise looked to be heading for a 5-0 yes vote at council this Wednesday, April 29, when the Mercury went to press Tuesday night.