Over the objections of some homeless advocates, Portland city council seemed poised to approve an ordinance on Wednesday, December 20, that would bring back a kinder, gentler version of the city's defunct sit-lie ordinance.
The ordinance is being pushed through as part of a package of recommendations brought forward by the Street Access For Everyone (SAFE) committee, which was drafted by Mayor Tom Potter to cobble together reforms that take care of the needs of the homeless and appease the business community ["SAFE-ing Grace," News, Nov. 2]. Miraculously, the committee—composed of disparate groups like the Portland Business Alliance, Sisters of the Road, Oregon Law Center, the police bureau, and ACLU-Oregon—came to a consensus on five recommendations, but only if all five recommendations were adopted and enacted simultaneously.
Last week, city council passed a resolution supporting those recommendations—the sit-lie element, which allows police to remove people sitting or lying in "high pedestrian traffic" areas; a day access center for the homeless; public restrooms, and more benches in traffic areas. This week, council will vote on the actual "high pedestrian traffic" ordinance; if it passes, it will go into effect in 30 days.
That has some people concerned—unless the policy is amended, the ordinance could be in effect long before the other recommendations.
"I understood this was likely to happen," says the ACLU's Andrea Meyer. "I'm distressed we hadn't seen the ordinance in time, and that the SAFE members didn't see the ordinance. What I would've preferred is if the ordinance wasn't enforceable until the other elements were in place. My expectation is that there will be benches in place in high traffic areas that people can be directed to."But those benches may not be there when the police begin enforcing the ordinance.
Sisters of the Road's Genny Nelson went so far as to ask city commissioners to vote no on the ordinance until the public services are available.
But Commissioner Erik Sten, city council's longtime advocate for the homeless, was confident that the rule would be put on hold until the rest of the recommendations are enacted. "[Before the ordinance is voted on], I'm going to clarify that this isn't going to be enforced until all the elements are in place."