Yesterday’s debate over Mayor Ted Wheeler’s five-point plan to end homelessness was predictably contentious, with business people threatening to leave town and advocates warning that the plan would further harm the communities it’s purported to help.
Amid all that, one person lightened the mood. Cody McGraw, donor relations manager at Street Roots, said he was speaking as a community member of Portland. He called for compassion, and he set the example by showing compassion for each member of the City Council, in turn, regardless of their stance on homelessness.
“I know there are people out there whom I respect who are going to be frustrated at me for extending compassion to some of you,” McGraw said, but the “healing effects” of compassion are too great.
He began with City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
“It’s gotta suck to be the one who speaks against the grain up there,” McGraw said. And Hardesty had been, proposing 10 amendments to the resolutions before council. Later, she was the only one to vote against any of them.
McGraw went on to Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau and the Joint Office of Homeless Services and who angered many advocates at a hearing last week when he put a group of real estate agents at the head of the line.
McGraw said he met Ryan before he took office. “Then, there was a sparkle in your eye,” McGraw said. “Now, if I’m being candid, your eyes say to me, ‘What the hell did I sign up for?’”
About Commissioner Carmen Rubio, McGraw said, “I bet you carry more emotional weight for City Council than us as a community will ever know.”
Coming to Commissioner Mingus Mapps, McGraw admitted that he didn’t know him well. “If I’m being real, I don’t have a read on you,” McGraw said, to which Mapps responded with a shrug. “But I know we’re both human, which means I know you have your suffering, too.”
McGraw came to Wheeler last. The mayor had endured hours of blistering testimony from advocates this week and last, during which he was accused of proposing concentration camps and of being a shill for wealthy property owners.
“People I trust, and who are more knowledgable about homelessness and the community, are infuriated with you,” McGraw said. “I don’t think my words will communicate compassion to you. Something tells me that your love language isn’t words, but physical touch. My ask, as I close this out, is that someone who is in City Hall now, who isn’t completely furious with Ted, get up and give him a bear hug.”
Wheeler quickly said, “Later, later!”
Hardesty, standing beside him, said: “It ain’t me. I’m not the one.”
McGraw resumed: “We as human beings know when we are being seen, when we are being loved, and when we are being cared for. Compassion fosters compassion.”
After four and a half hours, the council approved all of Wheeler’s five resolutions, including one to build six sanctioned campsites with capacity for 250 people each and to implement a phased-in ban on sidewalk camping. Hardesty was the lone vote against the sites and the camping ban.