August 11th, 2008 | by Amanda Waldroupe News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall, CLEAN UP

SAFE Committee gathers around the campfire, talks about sidewalk obstruction ordinance

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Pop quiz time, Willamette Week readers! Which of the following was discussed today at the SAFE (Safe Access for Everyone) Oversight Committee in its hearing regarding the sidewalk obstruction ordinance?

A) The ordinance should be repealed.
B) The ordinance is working well, and should not be repealed.
C) There are not enough services available to homeless individuals.
D) All of the above.

The answer is D. Today's hearing lived up to all of its “listening session” potential—members of the SAFE Oversight Committee sat at each of the twelve tables in the First Unitarian Church's community room to listen to a discussion between members of the business community, social service agencies, and homeless individuals regarding how the sidewalk obstruction ordinance has affected those various constituencies.

“I have yet to see anyone but [transients] and homeless people get a citation,” said a homeless person going by “Jukebox.”

“You haven't seen it enforced on anyone but homeless people?” asked Mark Jolin, executive director of the outreach agency JOIN.

“I have never seen a yuppie get a citation. Ever,” Jukebox said. “It's so one-sided, it's ridiculous.”

“Are there benches or parks available to you?” Jolin asked a bit later.

“Never,” Jukebox responded. There are too many people who are homeless and not enough benches and bathrooms.”

You get the gist of it. The hundred people attending were given an hour to talk about the ordinance at their tables, and then an hour was spent listening to a member of the SAFE Committee report back to the rest of the room what was discussed at their tables (see below for a sampling of what was reported).

“It was awesome,” says Sisters of the Road assistant director Michael Buonocore, who praised the committee for allowing people a good amount of time to talk.

However, nothing that had not already been said before, either in terms of praising or criticizing the ordinance, was aired at the meeting (see the above pop quiz, and WW's recent story on the ordinance).

After the meeting, Sisters of the Road community organizer Patrick Nolen told WW he was “amazed” that a lot of the reports back were in favor of repealing the ordinance.

“It'll be interesting to see if it makes it into the report to City Council,” Nolen says, referring to the report the SAFE Committee will make to City Council, probably sometime in October (stay tuned).

City Commissioner Nick Fish was in attendance and, from his comments to WW today, seems to be slowly but surely coming off the fence in favor of the ordinance, if services for homeless individuals are adequately put in place.

“I'm very concerned that [the ordinance] is part of a carefully crafted compromise,” Fish says. “We need to make sure that all the pieces of the compromise reached are honored.”

Fish also said he wanted to “nail down” his understanding of the ordinance's data, which shows that 62 percent of the warnings and 88 percent of the citations have gone to homeless individuals, transients, or people who gave no address to the police when cited.

“What I heard loud and clear is that there needs to be more toilets, showers, and lockers,” Fish says.

Here is something each SAFE Committee member reported back:

“The general consensus of the table was that the ordinance could be repealed,” says Maria Rubio, public safety and security director in the Mayor's office.

“The ordinance could be repealed, and another ordinance enforcing aggressive panhandling put in place,” reported Mike Reese, central precinct commander of the Portland Police.

“The feeling at the table is that the ordinance is doing what it is supposed to do, or headed in the right direction,” said Mark Hansen, a representative of the Lloyd Center. “There is also a problem with the lack of services. There aren't enough benches. There aren't enough bathrooms yet. As a member of the SAFE Committee, I know we're working on that. It's been a struggle.”

“[Some at the table] felt that they should have a right to vote on [the ordinance], and not just the City Council,” said Doreen Binder, executive director of Transition Projects, Inc., an Old-Town service agency.

“There was a very split table,” says Mark Apker, from Mayor Tom Potter's office. “One segment felt that the ordinance on the whole was doing a good job. The second segment of the table proposes we get rid of the ordinance altogether.”

“We had an individual who decided to test the ordinance and it was their experience that they were not contacted [by the police],” said Sean Suib, Associate Executive Director of the homeless youth agency NAFY.

“Retail business owners really wanted to stress today that they were concerned about legitimately homeless people,” said Laurie Abraham, a deputy attorney in the District Attorney's office, who went onto talk about reports from business people that homeless individuals spit, licked and put their face against store windows.

“The services are harder to access because they are over-utilized,” said Kyle Chisek, from the Mayor's office.

“There was a sense that this ordinance was having a negative impact on the community,” said Jolin. “There was a feeling that we didn't have adequate alternatives.”

[Note: Wondering why the boring photo? No photography was allowed at the hearing.]
 
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