Sheriff's office and private security force sweep houseless encampment in Southeast Portland during rainstorm on Human Rights Day
Portland, OR - December 14, 2015 - Around 8:00am on December 10, 2015 private security guards and a crew from Multnomah County Sheriff’s department arrived at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Portland’s southeast side and removed the personal belongings of many of the people who were sleeping there on the grounds and sidewalks near the church. Guards from Pacific Patrol Services and members of an inmate crew loaded tarps, sleeping bags, clothes, shoes and blankets into a truck and hauled it away in the rain. Temperatures at the time were about 48F, with winds gusting up to 26mph. Ibrahim Mubarak, an advocate for houseless people and a founder of Right 2 Survive, received a text about the sweep as he was being interviewed at the KBOO radio station a few blocks away. Mubarak left the radio station and arrived at St. Francis at around 9am. Mubarak approached the sheriff department employee and said “You are sweeping people in this weather? It’s supposed to be a state of emergency. They have nowhere to go." Rainy, cold weather in Portland the three previous nights has caused flooding and home evacuations. The crew leader denied that it was a sweep and said the crews were simply “cleaning” the sidewalk. Then he called the Portland Police on Mubarak, contending that he was being "aggressive". Police arrived, but did not arrest Mubarak. As they talked, the police officer said that this was a sweep that had been ordered by East Precinct Captain Sara Westbrook, contradicting previous assertions by sheriff department representatives that it was not a sweep. Mubarak reports that Valerie Chapman, the St. Francis Parish Administrator, was also present. Mubarak left St. Francis and went down to Portland Mayor Hales' office, where he conveyed the seriousness of taking away people's survival gear in this kind of weather. Josh Alpert, mayoral aide, responded two days later in a text to Mubarak: "St Francis action is part of weekly maintenance cleanup of the area, no cites issued, people required to only relocate with the belongings they want to keep to a block away. Trash and unwanted items are disposed of. Campers generally return shortly thereafter.
St. Francis supports the maintenance cleanings... I'm largely ok with that, as long as people aren't being harassed and can still come back. However, I've also let all bureaus know that 1), unless emergency, no sweep or cleanup of weather is bad, and 2), for now, any proposed action must be approved by our office first- some are appropriate, but I want to know reasons, where, who requested, etc.” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales was meeting with other west coast mayors that morning in Portland. Homelessness was a key topic on the meeting agenda. Two weeks earlier the mayor was quoted in the Oregonian: "Our job in city hall is to try to help everybody where they are, whether they are in established neighborhoods and everything's fine, or whether they're struggling and they're trying to stay in their apartment, or whether they're houseless and living on the street." (http://www.oregonlive.com/multimedia/index.ssf/2015/11/mayor_charlie_hales_visits_haz.html) Mayor Hales is also the Chief of Police. State ordinances require advance notice of any sweep. There is no ordinance regarding "cleanings". No one was arrested on that cold rainy morning, but Mubarak was outraged about the actions of the crews, especially during the rainy, cold weather. "No one spoke up about their stuff being taken because they were afraid they were going to get arrested," he said. "It was Human Rights Day and this is what they do?" Mubarak posted photos of the sleeping bags and tarps being hauled away from St. Francis with this caption "go eat breakfast and come back to your stuff gone what a day time nightmare". (See attached photographs.) Right 2 Survive was founded in 2009 and is a direct action group that educates both houseless and housed people on their civil, human, and constitutional rights. We also work to bridge the gap between housed and un-housed people by clearing away misconceptions and stigmas associated with houselessness and empower houseless people to stand up for them selves when their rights are violated.
I Ibrahim, have been wondering do the big time Politician's know about the injustice that goes on in the Houseless Communities. I know the Local politicians do, like the city Officials, the head of the Police, Mayor, the Developers, Business Improvement Districts, and the Neighborhood Associations. All are part of the small governments in cities. They impose unjust Laws on the poor, the criminalize the poor for exercising human rights. They even create monetary profits that the Poor do not benefit from. Look at all the Businesses and people that make money of off the Houseless. Hotels, Convenience stores, police officers, pharmaceutical companies, social services agencies, etc.etc. etc. Last Month Ex-Governor Kitzhaber came to visit us at Right 2 Dream too/ Right 2 Survive. We talked about the crisis that effecting the people of this country 'cause of No affordable housing, not enough Jobs and jobs that do not pay a wage so people might afford housing. The pay wage should be $15.00 or More. We went out to eat after his visit at the Rest Area of R2dtoo. What I learned is that he was a health specialist. Well Kiss my Ankle! When you talk with people you find out what they are like, what they know and don't know, or what they think that they may know. He has a heart but that heart wasn't informed of the Health crisis's that Houseless people go through. Ex-Governor Kitzhaber didn't know about recuperating centers for the houseless. He seem surprised that the Hospital would service people and then put them right back on the streets. He asked me;" How can they heal?" Well, Well, Well, Now He Knows. They don't!!!! So to my surprise he was stuck for words. As we finish our meal he took my business card, and you know like everything else I'll call you don't call me syndrome. Well to my surprise he contacted me and wants to continue or conversation about Recuperating Centers. . The ball is in his court again ,what will he do with it Pass or Shoot? Now,That He Knows. _____________________________________________________________________________________
At the time I was asked if I wanted to go meet Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, I was reluctant to go. What in the name of common sense would we talk about. Cigars? Chicago? Weapons of Mass Destruction? What. Oh! I know, Poverty that's plaguing this Rich Country.
When I first arrived at the secret place where she (Hillary) would be I was asked what I was doing and that help is in the back. I held my composure due that I knew that the organizer of this event was stupid. In that time the Host walked up to me and gave me a hug and mention that she was happy that I could make. So I turned stuck my tongue out at the organizer. Ha that felt good. I was searched , my bag was searched and the magic wand was waved over me to check for anything metal, Of course.
As I enter to greeting / meeting area, I saw a host of plastic white stale faces, taking me back in years to when my father was running for Mayor in a Suburb of Chicago Ill. I remember all the corny Jokes, all the Political Jargon etc. So from past experience I Ibrahim a former Chicago Gang Banger, Ex Drug Dealer/User, College Graduate, Aerospace Technician, Houseless Person and Advocate, but most an African American Muslim, Joined the Party. I combined my knowledge, of Academic and Street awareness to mingle. I past out information and DVD's about Right 2 Dream too, a Rest Area for Houseless People in Portland Oregon. I talk with the Richie Rich of this state. I'm with the who's who and it all reminded of what I experience from my pas.t Nothing changed, the Jokes, the lobbying, the lying, except there I was talking about what they didn't want to hear. What are you doing to help people that are experiencing Houselessness? What are you doing to stop poverty in this Country. here read /or look at this. this is what the 99% of the city is doing. Have I got any response yet? Nope!!
Then the time came to meet Hillary I was told that I couldn't give her anything. I had to put her name on it and leave the package on the table(did she get it? your guess is well as mine). So I grab her hand shook it, while talking to her about Houselessness. I had 30 seconds to do this. She agreed to add the topic to her platform and that we all should be looking for solutions. She was elegant, what Politicians is not. Oh that's right we have the" Donald". then in the middle of our conversation I was told my 30 second was over so I turned around an took the foto and then to her surprised I grabbed her hand again for and slight 10 second for my Friend Lee Larson who was not able to make it and All the Houseless people that was out side suffering. As a reminder to her you have been put on Notice." YOU SHOULD EXPECT US"!!!!!
Advocates for the homeless say tent cities would relieve Portland’s growing outdoor sleeping problem
By Anna Griffin, The Oregonian
On any given morning over the past few weeks, sunrise along the west bank of the Willamette River meant Mother Nature’s wake-up call for dozens of homeless people who spent the night sleeping on public property.
Some had simply unrolled a sleeping bag or folded themselves up on the park benches along Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Others parked all their worldly possessions — shopping carts, bikes, suitcases and filled-to-bursting garbage bags — in increasingly large, impromptu settlements beneath the Hawthorne, Morrison and Burnside bridges.
To a certain degree this is expected. Summer brings people who’ve been hidden, in cars and abandoned buildings or on friends’ couches, out into the sunshine. The end of the rainy season also coincides with the arrival of a different, usually younger population of homeless travelers.
But this year’s boom feels more intense, advocates and homeless people say, particularly in downtown Portland and along the Willamette’s west bank. It’s a reminder of a fundamental truth in the effort to end homelessness: Portland, like most large U.S. cities, forbids public camping but has no feasible means of consistently enforcing the ban.
It’s adding to a slow thaw in how civic leaders talk and think about a concept that would have seemed outlandish, and out of the political question, a few years ago: legalized, if limited, camping. Government-authorized tent cities.
“I know the general public doesn’t want to hear it,” said Israel Bayer, a homeless advocate and executive director of Street Roots, the alternative weekly paper sold by homeless vendors. “No, it’s not popular. No, it’s not an answer. But at some point, the gap between places to sleep and people needing them is too great. We’re overwhelmed.”
The camping ban
Camping, or in technical terms “establishing or maintaining a temporary place to live,” is illegal in Portland, along with most other Oregon communities.
As a general rule, Portland police enforce the law, and one that forbids erecting temporary structures on public property, on a complaint-driven basis unless camps grow so large or so obvious that they pose a public health or safety danger.
“Our primary complaints are about garbage and human waste,” Assistant Chief Bob Day said. “It really isn’t about the people so much as it’s about the stuff.
“We try to operate in a very restrained fashion in terms of understanding that we have almost 2,000 people outside every night, and even if all 2,000 were ready to be housed today, we couldn’t do it.”
Put more plainly: If you stay out of sight, out of trouble and away from large groups, officers usually leave you alone.
“We are not interested in the unsheltered man or woman who is sleeping in a doorway and picks up after themselves and is just looking for a safe place for the night,” said Sgt. Nate Voeller of Central Precinct’s neighborhood response team. “We know as well as anybody that people need a place to sleep and that we don’t have enough options in Portland.”
Earlier this summer officers spent three weeks working to reduce the number of people sleeping outside along the Eastbank Esplanade, on the streets near OMSI and under the Fremont Bridge’s east end. They were responding to complaints from neighbors and to camps that had grown too sprawling to control or ignore, officers said.
Homeless advocates called the effort abusive and unnecessary. Officers object to that characterization and say most people left voluntarily. Police made 896 “contacts” during the three-week operation but arrested only 12 people, six on outstanding warrants.
The problem: In the inner city, the number of places to hide is shrinking. Development in the Central Eastside Industrial District and inner Southeast, including the redevelopment of Washington High School and St. Francis Park, longtime refuges for homeless men and women, have resulted in more calls to authorities. So the crackdown on the inner eastside helps explain the apparent, anecdotal jump in the number of people sleeping in the inner westside.
“Historically, a complaint-driven system resulted in, for the most part, people being OK,” Bayer said. “The problem is a complaint-driven system when there’s really nowhere safe and secluded for people to go.”
Embracing tent cities
In the U.S., tent cities — semipermanent communities in temporary shelters — date to at least the Great Depression. Rising numbers of homeless men and women have prompted a few communities to consider them.
It’s usually a last-ditch approach, as in Phoenix, where community leaders allowed an overflowing shelter to expand into an adjacent parking lot for almost two years. Or it’s grudging: San Jose leaders, facing overwhelmed shelters and drops in federal affordable-housing money, allowed a 68-acre shantytown dubbed “the Jungle” to grow to almost 300 people, large enough that it appeared on Google Maps, before shutting it down in 2014.
In Seattle legal camping has been a small but accepted part of the approach to homelessness for more than a decade. Churches and other religious institutions were allowed to host homeless camps several years ago.
This past spring the Seattle City Council approved three new tent cities regulated by the city for as many as 100 residents each. The expansion was Mayor Ed Murray’s response to a surge in homelessness and the number of illegal camps in hard-to-miss places such as along highways and in public parks.
“The impact those illegal camps have on our community are huge in terms of public health, sometimes in terms of the general public but even more than that in terms of the safety of individuals living outside on their own without the protection of a community,” said Sola Plumacher, a Seattle Human Services Department worker who helps coordinate establishment of the new settlements. “We’re calling this an interim survival mechanism."
Seattle’s new camps will not be allowed in public parks, must be within a half-mile of a transit stop and must move at least once a year. Social service providers will run them and the city will pay as much as $200,000 annually for basic services such as trash collection and portable toilet rentals. That’s far less than the cost to build or rent and operate a traditional indoor shelter.
“Obviously we cannot stop there,” said Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, a Socialist whose election two years ago helped spur Seattle’s shift toward government-permitted tent cities.
“We have to be moving to a broader, more comprehensive solution, toward a time when people do not suffer from homelessness,” she said. “This is a way to make people’s day-to-day lives a little easier.”
A possible thawing
In Portland, advocates for the poor have pushed legalized camping for more than two decades. Those calls have grown louder in the past few years as homelessness jumped, a result of the recession and Portland’s hot rental market, which has driven up prices, driven down vacancy rates and driven out many poorer residents.
Civic leaders’ opposition to some form of legalized camping is beginning to loosen. “I think in a limited way that’s an option that has some merit,” Mayor Charlie Hales said this past spring. A committee of government officials, elected leaders and service providers studying solutions to homelessness has included tent cities in early conversations about what form more shelter space should take.
According to the Home for Everyone committee, the ultimate answer to Portland’s homeless crisis is better access to mental health care, more low-skill jobs and higher wages for existing jobs, more options for people fighting addiction and, above all else, more permanent affordable housing. But Portland also needs more emergency places for homeless people to sleep right now.
“We have an ordinance that prohibits camping. We also have upwards of 1,800 people who are going to have to sleep somewhere,” said Marc Jolin, director of the city-county A Home for Everyone initiative. “We do not have enough lawful places to sleep right now, no question. The question is how we use our resources.”
The arguments against tent cities are easy to list: They’re unattractive. They take up public space. They’re not a long-term answer for people trying to reach self-sufficiency. They can, done with little thought or placed in out-of-the-way places, look and feel less like small towns and more like internment camps for the extreme poor. In Honolulu, where the City Council has passed multiple laws aimed at criminalizing loitering and camping, Mayor Kirk Caldwell is building a small, legal homeless camp made of shipping containers at Sand Island Recreation Area, a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans.
“The risk is that you’re just pushing homelessness out of the public eye but not actually doing anything to help homeless people,” said Eric Tars, senior attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “If you put a camp in the middle of nowhere, away from any services, the only thing they accomplish is making the people you’re trying to help feel even more ostracized and isolated.”
Arguments for tent cities are subtler: They allow residents who want to look for work or go to the doctor a place to store their belongings, and freedom from the stress of trying to find a new safe place to sleep every night. They can give social service providers, who often must search for clients, a central location to work. They offer, if well run, a safer option for women and seniors living outdoors.
“I’m of the opinion that a sheltered place to go might reduce the victimization of some of our more vulnerable unsheltered population,” Voeller said.
And they give police and policymakers more leeway to enforce anti-camping and loitering laws elsewhere in a city. It’s hard for officers to crack down on camping with lasting results when there is nowhere for them to go besides “not here.”
Portland has two legal camps. Dignity Village, in far North Portland, grew out of a protest and into a permanent government-approved city-within-a-city run by and for homeless people.
The Right 2 Dream Too rest area downtown has drawn complaints from some nearby business owners, who say it scares away out-of-town visitors. A developer recently sued the city, saying the nearby homeless camp made it impossible to find investors to convert a former low-rent motel into a youth hostel.
City leaders, after trying to fine the community out of existence, have come to accept its usefulness, if not its location. They’re negotiating with its organizers to move near the southeast end of the new Tilikum Crossing bridge. Right 2 Dream has room for 100 people and routinely turns away 100 or more on winter nights, but the potential new site isn’t big enough to solve that problem.
“Of course we need more legal camps, unless we’re suddenly going to come up with houses for everyone,” said Ibrahim Mubarak, a homeless man who helped found Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too. “Look at it this way: You have a two-year waiting list to get housing in this city. If you’re trying to stop doing drugs, get a handle on a mental health problem, stay away from somebody who abused you, two years is a very, very long time. “A lot of bad things can happen in two years.”
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