Police Make Plans to Sweep the Homeless Out of the I-405 Corridor |
Police have announced to homeless activists a plan to intensify enforcement of trespassing laws largely on Oregon and Portland Department of Transportation properties. The properties targeted include those along and under the I-405 freeway, extending from the SW Hoyt up to NW Market, and all properties between the corridor and the Willamette River.
Earlier this month, the Portland Police Department presented the plan to crossroads a homeless peoples organization, a project of Sisters Of The Road Caf?, Inc. The action raises concerns among homeless activists that large numbers of people who use these properties as night time shelter will be displaced from unused land, possibly into the downtown core. The situation could aggravate an already strained relationship between downtown business community and the homeless community. The conflicting interests of these two communities came to a head last summer with the City's implementation of the "Sit-Lie" law.
"Time and again law enforcement and City officials tell us that these laws will direct people experiencing homelessness through the community court system and to social services that will get them off the streets," said Rachel Langford a volunteer with crossroads, "At the same time they admit that social services are overburdened and under-funded, and unable to meet the needs of many homeless citizens." During the winter months there are only 630 emergency shelter beds available for those seeking to get off the streets. A one night shelter count conducted last March showed 445 people seeking shelter were turned away. At the same time a one night street count conducted by JOIN last April showed at least 1672 people sleeping outside. Many homeless activists estimate that Portland has at least twice that many homeless people. Activists expect to see large increases to these numbers next month as the effect of massive cuts to health and social services, due to state budget shortfalls, are felt throughout Oregon.
Obviously, sleeping under a freeway overpass is not an ideal place for these people to be, but right now, the homeless have no alternative. Asked about the impact of displacement, law enforcement officials told crossroads that their job is to enforce the law within their jurisdiction and that they are not responsible for displacing the homeless into other neighborhoods. Ultimately the responsibility lies with Portland's police commissioner, Mayor Katz. She has the authority to stop this new enforcement plan, and it has been her decision to pursue policies criminalizing homelessness. The system is failing. Tightening down enforcement of these trespass laws will not address inadequate shelter space or the number of affordable houses or apartments. It is not a solution.
Crossroads held a press conference opposing police sweeps on Thursday, January 31st. Crossroads volunteer Rachel Langford and streetroots reporter Dan Newth spoke at that conference. For audio and text from the conference click on the links bellow.
crossroads' Rachel Lanford - Audio / Text
streetroots' Dan Newth - Audio / Text
Questions and Answers - Audio