[Hpn] City still targeting homeless camps (Portland, OR)

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 23 Dec 2000 16:43:21 -0700

City still targeting homeless camps

Police take other tactics to keep squatters off city property after
Portland's anti-camping statute was ruled unconstitutional

Saturday, December 23, 2000
By Katie Pesznecker of The Oregonian staff

Three months after a judge ruled Portland's anti-camping ordinance is
unconstitutional, police are working with outreach workers and using other
ordinances to close down homeless camps.

Central Precinct officers have not arrested anyone for camping since the
September ruling, but ordinance opponents are frustrated by city attorneys'
beliefs that the ordinance remains an available tool for breaking up camps.

More than 20 local religious leaders delivered a letter to Mayor Vera Katz
on Thursday in support of the judge's ruling. They asked her to budget more
money for affordable housing and homeless assistance programs.

"If I was the mayor and the police chief was to come into my office, I would
say to follow the law," said Chuck Currie, director of community outreach
for First United Methodist Church. "And the law says the anti-camping
ordinance is unconstitutional."

The city's 19-year-old anti-camping ordinance allows police to conduct
sweeps and evict people from camps or other places where people sleep and
keep belongings. It survived legal challenges until a father and son were
cited in February while living in their pickup.

In that case, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen L. Gallagher Jr.
ruled the anti-camping ordinance is unconstitutional and "punishes the
status of being homeless." That ruling has been appealed to the state Court
of Appeals, said Jim Van Dyke, a city attorney. He expects a decision by
fall 2001. 

"The judge's decision came in the context of a single criminal case in which
two people were charged," Van Dyke said. "The judge did not prohibit the
city from ever using the ordinance again, and I think people don't
understand that. And I understand why. It's confusing."

Central Precinct police also haven't arrested anyone for trespassing or
sleeping in parks after hours since September, Sgt. Jim Powell said.

Instead, officers visit camps daily with staff members of Join, a nonprofit
group that helps homeless people find housing.

A camp sweep Monday beneath the Broadway Bridge found eight people in tents.
They dubbed their home Camp Dignity, inspired by the Out of the Doorways
campaign through the publication called street roots, a monthly nonprofit
Portland newspaper for homeless and low-income people, said Byran Pollard,
managing editor. 

The goal of the Out of the Doorways campaign is to move homeless people into
sanitary, safe living environments with access to services, Pollard said.
Camp Dignity mirrors this with its substance-free environment and communal
living, he said. 

Police gave Camp Dignity a 24-hour eviction notice for trespassing, and the
group moved under the Fremont Bridge on Tuesday. Powell visited them Friday,
and police agreed to allow them to remain until Dec. 26.

The Dignity campers knew they would probably be moved by police and plan to
move until they find a permanent site to promote their campaign, Pollard
said. So far, the police have been accommodating, he said.

Powell said the campers are also willing to work with police.

"They're being very responsive, and they're nice folks to work with," Powell
said. "It makes both fiscal sense and community sense not to arrest someone.
Arrest, in the long term, won't impact camping."

But affordable housing and assistance programs will affect homelessness,
Currie said. "We need to find permanent solutions and not Band-Aid solutions
to this issue," he said.

Rob Justus, the director of Join, said his organization puts one homeless
person into permanent housing each day. "And to me, that's the ultimate
success," Justus said.

The city contributes enough money to Join so that it can provide one staffer
per precinct, Justus said.

"I think the mayor is trying to emphasize that ticketing people should not
be our primary response to homelessness," Justus said.

When the city uses any ordinance to relocate people, it's missing the point,
Currie said. 

"They are all based on the same premise," Currie said. "Harassing people
because of their economic status -- because they are homeless."

You can reach Katie Pesznecker at 503-221-8029 or by e-mail at

Copyright 2000 Oregon Live.


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