800 people attended Saturday's protest against the City for its harrassment of St. Francis of Assisi parish. Fulfilling a traditional -- and generally respected -- role for churches, St. Francis offers food, medical help, and a safe area to homeless people and others in need.
As Oregon's economy continues its downward slide and more government services are cut, more and more people are going to community churches seeking help, according to St. Francis' Pastoral Administrator Valerie Chapman. Recently, the Portland Police declared St. Francis a "chronic nuisance" and threatened to close down the property, using a law that was promulgated to crack down on drug houses.
The Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, of which St. Francis parish is a member, organized a rally to support the church against the city, to protest a number of social service cuts coming down the pike, and to campaign for Measure 28. (These latter two topics will be explored in depth on portland indymedia soon.)
Many people spoke at Buckman school, before the march to St. Francis began.
Kate is a teacher at Sunnyside Elementary. She spoke of staff cuts which have resulted in a classroom of 34 students to one teacher. She said the schools have inadequate resources and that the teachers get the brunt of the work moved to them. "I work 30 hours and get paid for 18," she said.
Crystal gets her kids up at 5 a.m. and they need to take 4 different buses to get to school. She feels that besides the fundamentals, children need physical education and art, too.
A sophomore at Grant, Devin said that budget cuts might prevent her from graduating o time, as she might not be able to get enough credits. She said there are 40 kids in some classrooms, and people have to sit on counters or at the teacher's desk for lack of room.
Kelley has two children in school. She says that the school system was great 10 years ago, but has declined rapidly in that time. The government and voters "conspired to make it worse by changing the funding structure, implementing new standards that hurt more than they helped, and by passing Measure 5. "The legislature decided not to keep up" with the increasing need for more funds. Education spending in Oregon has gone down so much that the state has fallen from 12th to 23rd in national ranking for spending, and is now below the national average. Despite al this bad news, Kelley feels that Oregonians will survive: "We'll circle the wagons and dig in our heels and do what needs to be done," but, action is required to turn back the tide if possible. She mentioned that MACG organizing has resulted in 60 house meetings where over 700 parents and teachers have become educated about these issues and have committed to fighting the good fight. They are ready to "move into action", she promised.
Heather Roberts (photo didn't turn out)
Heather works a temp job at $10/hr and is raising two children. She was unemployed for awhile and got medical coverage from the Oregon Health Plan. But now that she works, she'll be dropped, even though the amount she makes is not enough to pay for medical coverage. She is also in recovery and knows how important treatment is, and is afraid that many people currently in need of treatment will not be able to get it as funding is cut.
Cherie is with Central City Concern. Her son requires a lot of medical attention, but the benefits are running out, and some bills aren't covered: $6,380 in ambulance costs, and $9,560 for emergency room care. She and her partner don't have the money to pay them, but might have to quite their jobs in order to take care of her son.
Ms. Armitage is also from Central City Concern. Upcoming cuts in social services will be affecting 100,000 people statewide by March 1, even if Measure 28 passes in January. 15,000 will lose services entirely, mostly the poor, seniors, and those with mental health conditions. The results, she suspects, will be more domestic abuse and violence, and more people in jail and shelters. Ms. Armitage also said that MACG organizers and members would be putting the pressure on state legislators to halt or reverse these changes. She got a rousing cheer when she asked, "Are we ready to fight for people's lives?"
Barbara Sovill (sp? she was not listed in the program)
Barbara is from the Unitarian Church, and feels that Oregon is facing a health care crisis. She mentioned that 500,000 people in Oregon -- approximately 1 in 7 -- have no health insurance. $35,000,000 in state funds for health care will disappear if Measure 28 does not pass.
Marianne is from St. Charles Catholic Church said that MACG's focus is people and that improved access to improved health care is the focus of this campaign to pass measure 28 and roll back the cuts that have already been passed. Under MACG organizing efforts, 285 people have met in homes and committed to finding solutions together and working toward them.
Alan was homeless himself for 35 years and said "it ain't easy getting clean and sober under a bridge" and that people with addictions need "safe, drug-free housing" in order to begin effective recoveries. Over 1000 people in Oregon have housing only because they are in drug treatment, and they will be losing it when the cuts go through. "People are going to lose their live," he said.
Nick talked about the need for more subsidized housing and mentioned the MACG Housing Summit coming up in January.
Bill, a member of the Laborers' Union, Local 1200, talked about all the unionized workers being replaced by contractors. In addition to fewer jobs for the unionized workers, the contractors aren't trained as well and suffer more on-the-job injuries.
Erik is a sheet metal worker with Local 16. He railed against the use of taxpayer money for Oregon infrastructure projects that are given to contractors from out-of-state. "Stop this misuse of taxpayer money."
Barbara is from the First Unitarian Church and she reminded the crowd that Oregon is now #1 in unemployment and hunger. MACG has been working with the Portland Development Commission to get more houses constructed, to hire union workers for the labor, and to provide on-the-job training that can lead to fulltime employment.
Reverend Steve Bossi
"Father Steve" is the pastor of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, which is facing the same challenges as St. Francis, with an increasing need for services from the community. He spoke of "committing ourselves through our institutions" to band together and make positive social change together.
Members of Centro Cultural from Washington County attended the rally, and one of them translated the speeches into Spanish, on the fly.
After these speeches, the crowd marched to St. Francis. Photos of the march to follow...