WHEN WESLEY FLOWERS showed up to testify on homelessness at city council last Wednesday morning, July 2, he'd been hoping to read a three-minute speech prepared especially for the occasion. In the months since the homeless protest in front of city hall disbanded, protesters have been testifying at city council every week to keep the issues of the city's sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances in the spotlight.
"You know, I had a nice speech written up about the 10-Year Plan and what a three-year plan would look like," he says. "But I had my house stolen a week ago, and the police can't follow their own rules."
A few days earlier, on June 26, Flowers left his camp in Macleay Park at NW 29th and Thurman at noon. He returned at 10:15 pm to find his belongings had vanished and been replaced by an orange police flyer that read: "Notice: Illegal Campground."
Such notices are supposed to be up for 24 hours before the city enforces its controversial anti-camping ordinance, which prohibits camping out on the city's streets. But the notices are not supposed to be used in parks, which are under the park rangers' jurisdiction (and rangers typically enforce the parks' closing hours instead of the city's camping ordinance).
Regardless, instead of filling in the section of the notice that read, "This campsite will be removed on...," someone had scrawled, "Stay out of this area or be arrested" in crude black ballpoint ink.
Flowers called the Portland Police Bureau number on the notice, seeking information about where he could retrieve his property—but the cops had no idea where to find it. Eventually, Flowers got through to the Parks Bureau, where someone told him that their park rangers were responsible for removing his stuff, that they had determined it was all "unsalvageable," and that it had been destroyed.
"I was furious," says Flowers. "I mean, this was the crux of the protest ["Unhappy Campers," News, May 8]—that they've got these laws on the books that they can't even enforce legally. They're just using these various ordinances to harass poor people and they're not even issuing any tickets."
Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese says he has "no idea" how the park rangers were getting hold of the cops' illegal camping notices, although Parks Security Manager Mark Warrington told the Mercury on Tuesday, "It's a standard police form. We print up our own."
Mayor Tom Potter took notice of Flowers' testimony last week, and asked him to leave a copy of his no-camping notice with the council clerk so that the incident could be investigated. This week Matt Grumm, who is the parks liaison for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, acknowledged the Parks Bureau's error.
"His property was taken and destroyed by park rangers," says Grumm. "There is a risk management process in place if a person wishes to pursue a claim."
Flowers' list of property, which included a sleeping bag, tarp, clothes, and a book on the private security firm Blackwater, is valued at $716.91 by Flowers' estimate. Flowers is now in talks with a lawyer about filing a legal claim against the city related to the incident.
Meanwhile, Grumm says campers' possessions should be removed from the parks with "reasonable notice" under park closure laws, which specify that nobody is to remain in the city's park after closing time, rather than under the city's anti-camping ordinance. Grumm adds that he has not been able to find out how or why the park rangers were enforcing the law using a police bureau notice, but has asked Warrington to work out a new way of giving notice to those camped in parks from now on, before their property is seized and destroyed.
"It is definitely regrettable that people feel they have to go past closure hours in our parks," Grumm continues, when asked if the Parks Bureau regrets what happened to Flowers. "And it is also regrettable that people's stuff appears to have been removed without what would seem to be appropriate notice."