Portland Police Chief Mike Reese roused the sleeping debate over homelessness for another year Tuesday by announcing a new initiative, "Prosper Portland," to clear downtown sidewalks.
He also awakened the ire of East Portland residents, who say police are just shoving homeless camps to the edges of the city.
Lents Neighborhood Association chairman Jesse Cornett sent Reese a blistering letter Tuesday, saying the new police plan only displaces a downtown problem to East Portland.
"From my vantage point, you might as well have launched the 'Prosper PBA' initiative," Cornett writes. "As long as the problem doesn't exist so long as it is just pushed out to the Springwater Corridor, we can barely begin that discussion."
Cornett points out that homeless sweeps in Lents, conducted by the Oregon Department of Transportation, have merely shuffled camps around. WW reported in October how one of those sweeps simply moved campers a few hundred yards to another piece of ODOT land.
"The difference was they were in East Portland," Cornett writes. "It didn't make headlines. And they weren't given a place to go. Just simply displaced."
Mayor Charlie Hales last summer launched a crackdown on homeless campers downtown. He suggested during a press conference that sidewalk sweeps could extend into East Portland.
"There's other places in the city besides the central city where the problem is acute," Hales said in August. "We're not interested in chasing people around."
But Hales has abandoned any effort to revive the sit-lie law in Salem during the February legislative session.
Here's the full text of Cornett's letter to Reese:
Thank you for your continued service to the City of Portland. I have been impressed by the inroads with the community that the Portland Police Bureau has made under your leadership. In recent years, I've been relatively muted on issues pertaining to the Portland Police, but today's Prosper "Portland" announcement leaves me unable to remain quiet.
The discrepancy between how the city, including PPB, deals with homelessness issues in downtown Portland (ie actually dealing with it) versus east of 82nd (or even east of 39th) is stark. This goes beyond the police, of course. During October while a city council hearing took place about moving R2D2 from place A to B downtown, as many homeless campers were displaced -- literally during the hearing. The difference was they were in East Portland. It didn't make headlines. And they weren't given a place to go. Just simply displaced.
The proposed changes in your plan made public today only impact the inner city while ignoring large swaths of the city, including Lents. Even making the reference to "Prosper Rockwood" today exemplifies a distinction in managing issues in different areas of the city differently. As you may know, east of 82nd, we pay a disproportional share of property taxes. To have enhanced services to fix what the Portland Business Alliance members present as problems as opposed to concerns of all Portland residents is disappointing.
From my vantage point, you might as well have launched the "Prosper PBA" initiative. And as long as the police and the city at large continue to conflate the problems criminals (who may also panhandle) create with the issues of homelessness, we will not reach any sort of long term solution. As long as the problem doesn't exist so long as it is just pushed out to the Springwater Corridor, we can barely begin that discussion.
Foot patrols don't begin to consider the problem we face east of 82nd, or frankly east of the river at all. Revisiting the sit-lie ordinance promises to be just as effective as Payton Manning this past Sunday, and of course only masks the problem and only in visible areas. Hiring a Pearl District software firm seems to accentuate every stereotype possible about the class struggle our community is currently facing. A community court a world away at the Bud Clark Commons is disappointing in a community an hour away by transit.
I know you have deep roots in this neighborhood. I would encourage you to take the time to come back to Lents and meet with community leaders. We are not poised to prosper so long as initiatives such as Prosper only seek to fix or hide downtown's problems. I would love to assist in the creation of a real Prosper Portland initiative.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message. I look forward to your reply.
Chair, Lents Neighborhood Association