When protesters show up at City Hall this Wednesday, Mayor Vera Katz may want to cut an olive branch for Genny Nelson, director of Sisters of the Road Cafe.
The event, scheduled for 11 am, is to protest Katz's crackdown on loitering, a move that critics say will be used to push street punks and homeless people off downtown streets.
Katz, who had been working on a controversial new ordinance to restrict sitting and lying on public walkways, surprised observers with a change in tactics last month. At an Aug. 16 press conference, she announced that she had instructed Portland police to more strictly enforce the existing sidewalk guidelines, which already proscribe some behavior that has been tolerated.
In an apparent effort to show she supports homeless services, Katz whipped out coupons from Sisters of the Road Cafe, a restaurant that caters to low-income diners, and waved them in the air. The gesture angered Nelson, who wasn't invited to the press conference.
"I was upset," she says. "We were opposed to this ordinance since the day it was enacted." Nelson was outraged that there was no public hearing on the enforcement guidelines, and surprised that Katz would refer to her cafe to bolster her image as a homeless advocate. "Why she thought Sisters would back that, I'm not sure."
Elise Marshall, police liaison for the mayor, said Katz didn't mean to imply that Sisters endorsed the guidelines or the ordinance. Rather, the mayor was simply trying to call attention to an alternative to giving to panhandlers--the coupons which can be redeemed for meals at the cafe. Marshall says the mayor would like to expand the voucher program to other agencies.