Doug Brown

Ahoy, Portland! Fleet Week has officially begun, kicking off such time-honored traditions as: Battleship tours! Arbitrary naval flag waving! Time-consuming bridge lifts! Romanticizing drunken sailors! Crowds of people cheering for war!

It also calls for the annual downtown sweep of homeless campers and low-level drug offenders by Portland police and military officers.

According to Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Pete Simpson, officers teamed up with US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS, like that TV show I've never watched) earlier this week to conduct a series of targeted drug arrests in downtown Portland and along the waterfront. This joint effort between Portland and military cops has taken place for years in the days before Fleet Week, Simpson says.

Their work hasn't gone unnoticed. At least two of my colleagues have pointed out a considerable dearth of houseless people on nearby streets (the Mercury offices are located in an unidentifiable building near Old Town/Chinatown) and another caught PPB in the act of arresting a man who had been sleeping on a sidewalk on SW 2nd and Ash just yesterday morning.

"They do this every year... trying to make Portland look like a nice place to be for tourists and people driving in from the suburbs," says Ibrahim Mubarack, director of Right2Survive. "But after the crowds leave, everyone's let back out to the streets. It's absurd to me."

Crystal Davis, development director at Sisters of the Road, also condemned the tactic. She also pointed to the irony of the city allowing people to camp out overnight Friday along the Rose Parade route.

"It is hypocritical for housed attendees of Rose Festival events to be allowed to put up tents along parade routes while folk who are unhoused have been explicitly made to take their tents down," Davis said. "I see an opportunity for coordinators of the annual festival, law enforcement, and those of us with a lived experience of houselessness to have real conversations about the systemic violence that is perpetuated during what is meant to be a unifying festival for all of Portland."

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On Friday, Right2Survive is hosting its 8th annual "Pitch a Tent" event—a 24-hour campout on the SW 4th and Washington block of the Rose Parade route—to shine a light on this hypocrisy. Speakers from the homeless community will share their experiences sleeping on Portland's streets over free food, followed by live music.

"I find it absurd that when people are waiting in line to get a new iPad they’re allowed to camp out on the sidewalk, or when people are in line for a concert, they're allowed to camp out on a sidewalk," Mubarak says. "But when someone is down on their luck and they're camping on the sidewalk out as a way of survival, they're criminalized."