July 19th, 2013 By AARON MESH | News | Posted In: City Hall, Housing, Activism

Mayor Charlie Hales Bans Camping in Front of City Hall

homelesscityhallA homeless camper poses behind new signs posted along Southwest 4th Avenue on July 19 - Aaron Mesh

Mayor Charlie Hales is kicking the homeless camp off the front steps of Portland City Hall.

Portland Police officers quietly posted metal signs in front of City Hall Friday evening outlawing obstruction of the sidewalk along Southwest 4th Avenue—in effect serving an eviction notice to the homeless encampment that has swelled to more than 40 people in recent weeks.

Hales spokesman Dana Haynes confirmed to WW tonight that the mayor ordered the signs installed, and has told police to sweep out sleeping bags and other property early next week.

"There are people who won't use the front entrance because they've been harassed by the campers," Haynes says. "We finally thought, 'That's it. No more.'"

Haynes says Portland Police have logged 113 calls in the first 180 days of this year to the sidewalk in front of City Hall. And in recent weeks, the camp has grown with the arrival of "summer travelers"—street kids who pass through Portland each year.

The media drumbeat for Hales to crack down has grown, too, with local TV stations and Oregonian columnist Steve Duin featuring the camp, which calls itself a protest against city housing policies.

Hales signaled early in his administration that he would make ending an "epidemic of panhandling" a top priority—but lost a weapon in that fight when the Oregon Legislature spiked a bill that would have allowed Portland to revive the controversial sit-lie law.

Tonight's sign installation means Hales is using the rule he has at his disposal: a segment of city code called a "high-use pedestrian zone." The signs along Southwest 4th Avenue say the portion of sidewalk is for pedestrian use only.

Haynes says that zone, which is in use in several other downtown locations, will extend to the Portland Building next door, where most city bureaucrats work.

By 8:45 pm Friday night, homeless campers had already defaced one of the signs with graffiti and a Cascadian flag sticker. The crowd outside City Hall had expanded into Chapman and Lownsdale squares—home to 2011's Occupy Portland protests—and included a shirtless toddler, several dogs and a white rat.

One protester, who calls himself Graham ("like the cracker"), told WW he saw police install signs shortly after the end of business Friday. He says he's not leaving.

"We're going to stay here, whether there's signs or not," Graham says. "It is a protest, for crying out loud. By the time the police get here, we'll be ready."

 
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