City Hall's latest effort to broker peace between downtown businesses and homeless people has largely won praise from the business interests, homeless advocates, police and community members who put together the compromise.
The strategy for the year ahead includes creating a new day access/resource center for the homeless, along with more benches and public restrooms downtown. The plan also includes a new "High Pedestrian Traffic Area" ordinance prohibiting anyone from sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between 7 am and 9 pm in "high traffic" areas such as Fareless Square—and penalizing violators with fines up to $250.
At a ceremony last week to honor at least 27 homeless people who organizers say died on Portland's streets over the past year, several homeless people in their teens and 20s—and the outreach staff who work closest with them—lauded the idea of a daytime center.
But those attending the event at Outside In also raised the following concerns about what could go wrong with the rest of the plan.
"High Pedestrian Traffic Area" ordinance
Sam, homeless man: "People can't be told what to do. We just sit down to sit down, we're just so tired. Creating bench space is a good idea. But it takes time, and a lot of people will get arrested in the meantime."
Matt Schwartz, former volunteer at Outside In: "They're trying to corral homeless people. It's not genuinely compassionate. It's saying, 'Let's get people the fuck off the sidewalks so we can run our businesses.'"
"Q," homeless woman: "Putting in more benches wouldn't matter. I sit on the ground, even if there is a bench. We're more used to the natural things, not the furniture things."
Ray Fuller, homeless man: "Public bathrooms open all night would be good. And most likely, nine times out of 10, people who do drugs wouldn't do them there, because the bathrooms would be patrolled."
Calvin, homeless man: "If the bathrooms are open all night long, there wouldn't be as much peeing in the doorways. The city would be a lot cleaner."
A daytime center
Israel Bayer, director, Street Roots: "We think the day center is phenomenal, and long overdue.... And the community is grateful for the public restrooms. But we don't feel that leveraging civil rights for direct services is good. It sets the precedent that it's OK to exchange one for the other."