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Take action against changes to Portland law that criminalizing homelessness.
Title 14 is the section of city code that governs the use public space. Over the past several years, the City Attorney's office began a process of rewriting this section of the city code. This revision was intended only to clarify the language in this code and to bring it into compliance with state law. In January of this year, attorneys from the Oregon Law Center, the ACLU of Oregon, and the Metropolitan Public Defenders objected to 13 of the proposed revisions in Title 14, which they said would "enact numerous new criminal offenses and . . . vastly expand the offenses that already exist."
The most famous of these new criminal offenses is the proposed "Sit/Lie" ordinance. As written, the "Sit/Lie" ordinance made it illegal for a person to stand, sit or lie on a public right of way if that conduct " 'would cause' a pedestrian or other user of 'any part' of the right of way reasonably to take action to move around or avoid" that person. "Because at any time a person stand, sits, or lies on the sidewalk she 'would cause' another using that particular area of the side walk to take action to move around her, the ordinance can be read to permit law enforcement officers to treat, any sitting, lying or standing on public right of way as criminal conduct."
Due to these legal objections and concerns raised by the community, the City Attorney's Office has removed ten of the objected to measures, including the "sit/lie" ordinance, from the newly proposed draft of Title 14. These ten measures will be given separate consideration by the City Council beginning after July 1st.
Mayor's Office will take public commentary on current draft of the proposed revisions, with the ten controversial revisions removed, until the 15th of May. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the current draft on May 29th.
On Saturday, May 11th members of the community met at Sisters of the Road Caf? to draft the letter below to request that the City Attorney's office remove additional revisions to Title 14, before the May 29th hearing. Please e-mail a copy of this letter to the Mayor's Office by May 15th at firstname.lastname@example.org, or print it out and send it to the Mayor;s Office at:
Office of Mayor Vera Katz
1221 SW 4th Ave, Suite 340
Portland, OR 97204-1995
May 11, 2002
Mayor Vera Katz
1221 SW 4th Room 340
Portland, OR 97204
Dear Mayor Katz, Commissioners Francesconi, Hales, Saltzman, Sten, and all concerned,
We, the undersigned, are proud that the City of Portland is a beautiful and inviting gathering place for young and old, rich and poor, local citizens and visitors, and is accessible by all modes of transportation. That is why we are gravely concerned about several aspects of the recently revised sections of Title 14 of the Portland City Code. We would like to see the following sections removed from the revisions.
14A.40.020 Offensive Physical Conduct Prohibited
Our concern is that this change is redundant because there are already laws in place that cover assault and harassment.
14A.40.050 Unlawful Prostitution Procurement Activities
The behaviors listed in this section are unduly vague and allow individual police officers excessive discretion in criminalizing otherwise innocent behaviors. We have concerns over the words and interpretations of "lingering, beckoning, and circling in a vehicle" used in Subsection A2. For example, a person could be seeking a parking place, directions, meeting friends, or waiting for a ride. Subsection A4 criminalizes sexual behaviors outside of marriage, which is an issue that should be left outside of city government.
14A.50.010 Alcohol on Public Property and Rights of Way
Our question is whether under OLCC regulations, is it legal to take a half opened bottle of wine home from the restaurant it was purchased at? If so, then this section would contradict state law.
14A.50.020 Camping Prohibited on Public Property and Public Rights of Way
We believe that this ordinance targets the homeless. Homelessness is, in and of itself, an emergency situation requiring a person to engage in dire behavior, i.e. camping on public property, for her/his very survival in order to sleep. "10,441 rental units exist for 22,667 households who fall between 0-30% of the median income in Multnomah County" (from the 2000-2005 Consolidated Plan, 1997 American Community Survey Data). Since there are gravely insufficient numbers of shelter beds for all the people in Portland without housing, homelessness is not a voluntary condition. The fine is directed to a segment of society least able to pay.
14A.50.050 Erecting Permanent or Temporary Structures on Public Property or Public Rights of Way
Our concern is with definitions of "structure, fixture, and to place" used in this section. For example, if a person set down their camping gear, essentially a homeless person's livelihood, while sitting on a bench resting, they could potentially be cited or arrested. This law would punish people twice for essentially the same actions and behaviors included in section 14A.50.020. For the same objections listed in 14A.50.020, we would like to see these sections removed.
14A.50.100 Urination or Defecation on Public Property or Public Rights of Way
Until we have adequate numbers of bathroom facilities in the City of Portland accessible to all people at all hours, this section criminalizes people for necessary human bodily functions. Urination and defecation are non-negotiable human survival activities.
14A.50.110 Misuse of a Public Restroom
Until there are places where people can effectively clean up, brush their teeth, and maintain their personal hygiene on a regular basis, people should not be criminalized for using public restrooms for these purposes. Allowing these activities would enable people to be more presentable and hygienic. All of the public have the right to freshen up.
14A.50.120 Misuse of a Public Drinking Fountain
This section leaves too much up to the discretion of individual police officers regarding the use of a drain in a drinking fountain. For example, rinsing out a coffee cup to fill it up with water would become illegal.
14C.30.010 Authority to restrict Access to Certain Areas
Our concern with this section is the lack of a definition for the phrase "terrorist incident."
14C.30.050 Safekeeping and Prisoner Property
We are concerned with the definition of a "reasonable attempt" to return someone's property. It is our experience that oftentimes valuables, like a person's state ID card or Oregon Trail card, are never returned. We would like to see a consistent procedure that can be relied on.
14C.30.070 Authority of Tri-Met to Prohibit Misuse of Transit Shelters and Loading Platforms on City Property
The potential by Tri-Met to issue exclusions and trespassing citations could result in the criminalization of people who are just resting or seeking shelter from severe weather with specific concerns around Skidmore Fountain, Civic Stadium, and Holladay Park Transit Loading Platforms. This again singles out the homeless as targets.
Portland is known as the most livable city in the country and bills itself as "The City That Works". Should it not work and be livable for all? The amount of revenue it would take to enforce these proposed changes could be better spent in finding real solutions to issues facing the city.
CC: Commissioners Francesconi, Hales, Saltzman, and Sten
Thank you for your consideration.