Doug Brown

RIGHT 2 DREAM TOO lost its most visible champion at a particularly delicate moment.

Ibrahim Mubarak, who helped found the homeless rest area in 2011 and has been a constant presence at the lot beneath the Chinatown gate, officially parted with the camp on February 1, citing differences with other members of the leadership team.

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Six days after Mubarak left, local developer Bob Naito and others filed suit [PDF] against R2DToo’s landlords, alleging the camp was a blemish that would hurt a new hotel Naito is building across the street. The lawsuit only adds pressure to an April 7 deadline the camp has been given by the Portland Development Commission to move elsewhere.

As they have for years, officials are scrambling to make that move happen—and it appears Commissioner Amanda Fritz may soon suggest a city-owned parking lot near SW Naito and Market as R2DToo’s new home.

But whatever becomes of the camp, it’ll happen without Mubarak, 60, who’s keeping himself busy spreading his passion for peer-run homeless services around the country. He’ll also flog a long-desired Right to Rest Act—which could beef up legal protections for homeless people—in Oregon’s current legislative session (he’s helping push the same provision in two other states).

Here’s what Mubarak had to say about all of that in a recent sit-down with the Mercury.


Mercury: Let’s start with the lawsuit. What do you know about it? 

Ibrahim Mubarak: I don’t think anything’s going to happen. I think Mr. Naito is a dork. He’s not keeping up on current events. Right 2 Dream Too is set to move April 7 of this year, and they’re not going to be finished with that building. However, if [Naito is] supposed to be a first-class Japanese humanitarian, why is he taking that low-income building and building a high-priced hotel, and not doing things for low-income to no-income people? And then he wants to push us out the way because it might not look good for people who want to patronize his business?

You’ve been with the Right 2 Dream since 2011. You’ve been promised a lot of things in that time that didn’t happen. Do you have faith in the system at this point? 

I don’t have faith in the system. I never had faith in the system as long as people who have been affected [by homelessness] wasn’t at the table [with] a 55 percent stake in what happened to them. [Officials] don’t know the experience that people living in the street have, and they constantly want to dictate how we can live our life. You can’t dictate or control people. You have to control the situation and hope people can leave from there and build their lives around that.

Pretty much everyone recognizes that you’ve had success with the R2DToo model. What happens to it now that you’re gone?

I left it in capable hands. I’ve been there since the beginning educating and training the houseless community as well as the board of Right 2 Dream Too, and hopefully they reserve some of the things they learned from me. I think because we had directional differences, it was time for me to go. 

What were some of the differences?

I wanted to use the membership. We first started out as a training base to train people to advocate for one another and themselves. It did work at first, but people were saying they don’t feel like they should be forced to do these things. But that was the concept. I felt my hands were being tied up in being there all the time when I wanted to expand to different avenues and have different organizations.

You travel around the country to talk to people about the peer-run shelter model. Where have you been recently?

I’ve been to New Mexico, San Francisco, Seattle, Bend, Eugene, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’m talking about this model and people ask me to come consult them on doing things. I get to see different cities and states and lifestyles, but what I didn’t like is when I come back home, I still had to do things the [R2DToo] members should be doing. They shouldn’t have to wait for me. It should have been: Whether I’m here or not, this is the procedure on how we do things. But some people are not sure of themselves.

Now that you’re separated from R2DToo, what are you up to? 

I need to free some time and space so I can focus on the Right to Rest bill, which is now House Bill 2215. We’re trying to build a campaign up around that. I’m the chairman of the Board of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, so I travel to these different states and give PowerPoint presentations, talk to legislators, and the faith-based community. That needs more attention than R2DToo right now, because they know what to do.

When did you leave?

February 1. I had given a month and a half notice for them to find someone, but then I got busy again. I went to San Francisco, went to Denver, and Phoenix and Tucson [to advocate for a peer-run shelter]. That works better than your traditional shelter, where [the people running it] go to school, they gather knowledge, but then once they graduate they rely on those books instead of reality and what’s happening in the streets. I’m adamant about telling social workers to go out in the streets and meet people where they’re at, so they can know, but most of them still rely on the books.

We’re not your grandfather’s houseless person. People are losing their housing due to the economic crunch where your salary’s not compatible with the cost of things. Those people don’t think or believe that they have to go to a social worker to manage their life. They didn’t do anything wrong but believe in the American dream, which is failing.

Another thing I want to do is open a class to teach people how to survive on the street, teach people about homelessness. They don’t teach us about that in college or school. Also I would like to go throughout the country and connect all the tent cities that I consult to come together and create a mass mobilization of houseless people throughout this country, so we can have interchanging personnel. Somebody from Michigan could come here and see how we do things. Somebody from here could go to San Jose. Somebody from San Jose can go to Denver. We can learn from one another and support one another. 

What’s the most hopeful thing you see for Portland going forward? 

This Right to Rest Act bill. The city needs to join in with us. There’s not enough shelter space, and the shelters that they have are not compatible for people living in the streets. A lot of people are coming here to see the models [used at Right 2 Dream Too and Dignity Village]. But people still got that thing where, if I’m your neighbor for five years, we sit on the porch, say “Hey, I like your new car.” Then when I lose my housing, you alienate me. Why? Why all the sudden am I treated like a disease? I’m the same person. I just don’t have a house. 

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What else do you want to add?

People should come to Sisters of the Road or Right 2 Survive and see how they can support us and endorse the Right to Rest Act bill.