Yesterday evening, 60 people—including City Commissioner Nick Fish and City Council candidates Charles Lewis and Amanda Fritz—gathered inside homeless nonprofit Sisters of the Road's cafeteria to listen to moving testimony of approximately 15 people directly affected by the sit-lie ordinance.
"There are people on the street who would give anything for a job, a home, a bed," says Ben I. (he would not give WW his last name, citing personal safety reasons). "And there's no place to lie their head."
The testimony people delivered all called for the repeal of the City's sit-lie ordinance
, and ranged from talking about personal experiences of being warned or cited by the police, not being able to sleep or rest, and the conviction that homeless individuals were being targeted and criminalized by the ordinance.
"I vend papers for eight hours a day," says Joe Van Der Heiden, a vendor for Portland's Street Roots
(disclosure: I contribute articles to Street Roots
as well). "I'm not allowed to sit down for a five minute break. People with business suits sit down on the sidewalk all of the time, and the police go right past them."
During his testimony, one individual broke into tears and the shame he felt about being homeless.
"It makes you realize that being homeless is hell," says City Council candidate Amanda Fritz.
"[The ordinance] makes being homeless criminal," Lewis says.
(When asked, Fritz said that her position on the sit-lie ordinance had not changed since this Q&A
"Yesterday I talked to the Mayor and City Council," says Lawrence Bishop, who gave public testimony during yesterday's City Council meeting. "And the thing I stressed is that we need a safe place. And we need a safe place now."
Last night's forum was designed, says Sisters' assistant director Michael Buonocore, to give homeless individuals a place for their voices to be heard before the SAFE Oversight Committee meets on Aug. 11 to review the ordinance.
"We have plenty of reasons to be skeptical that the process that will happen on Aug. 11 will not result in their voices being reflected in the report that comes out of that meeting," Buonocore says, referring to the report the SAFE Committee is expected to make to City Council in September.
Sisters will write a report summarizing the forum and present it to the SAFE Committee on Monday.
(Sisters of the Road resigned
its membership from the SAFE Committee in May.)
Despite the overwhelming call for the repeal of the ordinance, it appears that the testimony had little true effect on the politicians and advocates there who have the power to make that change.
"There's no indication that the Committee will suggest a repeal of the ordinance," Buonocore said.
When asked if the testimony had caused him to come any closer to coming off the fence with regards to his position on the ordinance, Fish said it had not.
"I haven't declared a position," says Fish. "I'm going to take a good hard look [at the ordinance]."
"I came to listen," Fish continued. " I was very moved by what I heard. It was a powerful forum."
And Mark Jolin, executive director of the outreach organization JOIN and a member of the SAFE Oversight Committee, said that the testimony had not moved him to stake a firm position against the ordinance. Come Monday's SAFE Oversight meeting, Jolin says it isn't likely that any hard positions will be staked out.
"The hearing on Monday is just a listening session," Jolin said.