A sidewalk obstruction ordinance championed by Mayor Tom Potter can finally take effect, after months of wrangling between downtown businesses and homeless advocates. Everyone gave up a little, got a little, and—in a quirk of politics, Portland-style—the ordinance’s most vocal critic came out a winner.
The Portland Business Alliance will have a legal means to shoo away undesirables, now that police can issue citations. But after enduring accusations of heartlessness, PBA will donate $150,000—more than triple what it had planned—toward services for the homeless.
Opponents of the ordinance—known as “sit-lie” for what it prohibits—may have to take their case to court. But homeless advocates won concessions from the city such as public showers, benches and bathrooms.
And Street Roots, the newspaper whose opposition to sit-lie gave Mayor Potter and the PBA such a headache? It will get some cash money.
The Street Access For Everyone oversight committee, appointed by the mayor and funded by the city, will give Street Roots a one-time grant of $30,000. The grant will fund the quarterly printing of 10,000 resource guides listing services for the homeless (printing that many guides at Kinko’s would cost nearly $900,000), and a new employee to put the guides together. The grant represents a one-third increase in Street Roots ’ modest $90,000 annual budget.
“It’s a hairy situation,” says Street Roots director Israel Bayer. But, he stresses, the money will in no way influence the paper’s editorial position against the sit-lie ordinance.
“I can’t imagine that everyone on the committee was happy with giving us $30,000, while at the same time we were against the sit-lie ordinance,” Bayer says. “Portland is a unique town in the way politics works.”
Street Roots had approached city officials early in the year about funding the guide. Commissioner Erik Sten’s point-man on homelessness, Jamaal Folsom, referred them to the mayor’s office, which passed them on to the SAFE committee. Potter adviser Kyle Chisek says the city was initially concerned that the Street Roots guide might duplicate services provided by government and other nonprofits.
“Things changed just in the course of the year,” Chisek says. “Nobody else had a similar proposal.”
Chisek, a non-voting member of the SAFE committee, says moderating Street Roots ’ editorial stance wasn’t a consideration. “Understandably, it seems like it would be an awkward position for Street Roots ,” Chisek says. However, he adds, the committee and Street Roots shared a common purpose: providing a service for the homeless.
Bayer agrees. “I think we all have the same goal in mind,” he says. “The goal is to not have homelessness downtown.”
Were some on the committee hoping Street Roots would take the money and shut up? No one contacted by WW said that was the intent of the grant, but some understood how it might look that way.
“There has been undue influence with the PBA. I don’t think your picking that part out is inconsistent with my overall criticism,” says Commissioner Randy Leonard, who criticized the SAFE committee’s decision to open City Hall’s bathrooms overnight as “cynical” and ineffective.
“To look at it non-cynically, Street Roots is the best [organization] to do this,” says Monica Goracke, a homeless advocate with the Oregon Law Center and co-chair of the SAFE committee.
Bayer says nearly $13,000 of the grant will fund half of the annual salary of the new full-time Street Roots employee—a former vendor—to compile the guides. The rest will pay for the printing of a durable, 80-page, pocket-size booklet listing where to find food, clothing, shelter, medical care and transportation.
Street Roots currently contains a four-page Rose City Resources section, but its disadvantages are twofold: newsprint doesn’t survive long in the elements, and to get it, you have to buy the paper for $1. The new pocket guide will be free.