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August 6th, 2008 Amanda Waldroupe | News Stories
 

Streets of Rage

Anger over city’s sit-lie ordinance on tap again this week. But will anything change?

     
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One year ago, City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for people to “sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk” between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm in the downtown and Rose Quarter areas.

Homeless people and their advocates say the so-called “sit-lie ordinance” criminalizes homelessness, and they’ve pressed for the law’s repeal, protesting for three weeks last spring in front of City Hall (see WWire for coverage).

“They’re just trying to drive homeless people out,” says Waldo, a 24-year-old homeless man who’d only give his first name.

The dispute resurfaces Monday, Aug. 11, when the Safe Access For Everyone Committee—created by Mayor Tom Potter—meets to review the ordinance. But before that meeting of homeless advocates, lawyers, business leaders and police, Sisters of the Road will host its own “truth” commission Thursday, Aug. 7, allowing speakers to voice their opinions.

“The SAFE Committee in the past has not listened very carefully to what our community has had to say,” says Patrick Nolen, the nonprofit’s community organizer.

Sisters will compile statements from speakers in its report to the SAFE Committee, which will make its recommendations to City Council in the fall. Meanwhile, here are some key criticisms of—and responses to—the sit-lie ordinance that have already arisen, along with informed speculation whether anything will change.

The Sit-Lie Ordinance

THE CRITICISM: Between August 2007 and June 25, 2008, police issued 159 written warnings and 33 citations under the ordinance, according to the Oregon Law Center. About 62 percent of the warnings and 88 percent of the citations—each of which carries a fine of $250—went to people who said they were homeless or transient or provided no address. Critics say those numbers demonstrate the ordinance criminalizes people for being homeless.

THE RESPONSE: Mike Reese, Central Precinct commander for the Portland Police Bureau, rejects that criticism, saying ordinance violations carry no jail time and aren’t even misdemeanors.

LIKELIHOOD OF CHANGE: Accepting this argument would require repeal of the law by the five-member City Council. That’s unlikely—Potter and Commissioners Sam Adams and Dan Saltzman support the ordinance. Commissioner Randy Leonard says he’d vote to repeal the law; newbie Commissioner Nick Fish remains on the fence.


THE CRITICISM: The ordinance does nothing to solve homelessness.

THE RESPONSE: The Portland Business Alliance’s Marion Haynes says the ordinance helps bring services to the homeless. Among them: public benches, restrooms and a day center.

LIKELIHOOD OF CHANGE: The day center is expected to open in 2009. And the city has built 31 benches and extended the hours of eight public restrooms.


THE CRITICISM: The ordinance violates free-speech provisions, according to lawyer William A. Meyer, who’s filed a motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court challenging the law’s constitutionality.

THE RESPONSE: “The Council consulted with the community and our attorneys to come up with a law that respected the community’s needs and was obviously respectful of the Constitution as well,” says Potter spokesman John Doussard.

LIKELIHOOD OF CHANGE: A hearing on Meyer’s suit is set for Sept. 19.


FACT: Sisters’ “truth” commission meets Thursday, Aug. 7, at 5:30 pm at 133 NW 6th Ave. The SAFE Committee meets Monday, Aug. 11, at 3 pm at the First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. Check wweek.com for daily coverage.
 
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