Sleeping Bag Givaway in Front of City Hall
Members of Crossroads, a homeless people's organization located in downtown Portland, distributed dozens of sleeping bags to people experiencing homelessness in front of City Hall on Wednesday morning as part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness about the needs of Portland's homeless and the city's anti-camping ordinance. About 100 persons attended the event for the chance to pick up a needed sleeping bag.
After the giveaway, housed and homeless citizens addressed the Mayor and City Council about the impact of the ordinance on Portland's most
vulnerable citizens and asked the Council to repeal the law.
According to Crossroads, Portland has only 370 emergency shelter beds available on any given night, leaving over 1,500 people to live on the
streets, in their cars, or under bridges. The anti-camping ordinance makes it illegal to sleep in any of those locations. Without enough shelter
beds, and with the city's lack of low-income housing, this population of displaced people has no place else to go but the streets.
Multnomah County Judge Stephen Gallagher ruled the anti-camping ordinance unconstitutional in a September 2000 court ruling. Gallagher ruled that given the city's lack of shelter space, the ordinance violates residents' freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Because Gallagher was a circuit court judge and the case was not taken to an appeals court, the ruling
is not binding outside of the specific court case.
Annalisa Bandalera, a Linguistics major at Portland State University and a member of the Portland Peace Encampment, a 24-hour per day peace vigil that has occupied sidewalk space between City Hall and the Green-Wyatt Federal Building since the war on Iraq began March 20, addressed the council for three minutes, as she has done most Wednesday mornings since May 14.
"When I walk through the city and I see this, I cry tears in my heart because I am aware of how close any person is to being without a home,
without basic necessities," she said.
Members of the Peace Encampment have experienced first hand the methods employed by officers of the Portland Police Bureau in waking peaceful sleepers in the middle of the night and seizing as "evidence" or "found property" any possessions that could not be immediately claimed and removed. In May, Portland police officers physically removing a handicapped man
who peacefully refused to voluntarily relinquish his folding chair at the Peace Encampment ended up sending the man to the emergency room in an ambulance.
"The Portland Peace Encampment started because we wanted to address the issues of the war on Iraq," Bandalera said. "But as we've continued to maintain our vigil on the sidewalk, and we have gotten to know the homeless community downtown, and heard their stories, we have been appalled by the treatment of the police."
Bandalera explained that the Peace Encampment occupies a kind of "peace border" and wants to work with citizens and the community to establish a framework where all people can exist peacefully.
"If you're trying to catch some sleep and some cop's coming down with his boot saying, "you've gotta move," that's not peaceful," she said. "And
that needs to be addressed in this city."
Following Bandalera's comments to the council, Peace Encampment member Todd Kurylowitz, a US Navy veteran and a founding member of the camp, took his turn to speak. Kurylowitz, like Bandalera, has spent three minutes most Wednesdays since May 14 engaging the Mayor and City Council in a one-way conversation. He spent a moment talking about the anti-camping ordinance before ceding his remaining time for the council's comments as he unrolled a sleeping bag on the floor of the council chamber.
"This is shelter," Kurylowitz said, as he lay on top of the sleeping bag and remained there silently for the rest of the comment period.
The council declined Kurylowitz's invitation to engage in a dialogue on the matter, but Katz did threaten to clear the council chamber after many of those assembled in the room erupted in applause and shouts of support for Kurylowitz's statement.
Keith Vann, a homeless resident of Portland who sits on the guiding council of Crossroads, said that a coalition of community organizations and individuals have generated a tremendous amount of support for a thoughtful resolution to the needs of homeless Portlanders.
"The momentum is building towards our strongest negotiating position yet with the city over the callous way it perceives and addresses its poor
and homeless," said Vann. Calling the anti-camping ordinance a "sham", Van reiterated the call for "a sensible solution to the shameful issues of inadequate night shelters, inadequate day centers, and discriminatory police harassment of peaceful sleepers and the visible poor downtown."
After the last speaker had completed his statement, Commissioner Erik Sten, whom many observers suspect is seriously eyeing a run for Katz's position in November along with Commissioner Jim Francesconi, parted with custom by asking Katz for the opportunity to respond to those assembled in the chamber. Acknowledging that the city?s shelters are full and that homeless people will be forced to camp, Sten nevertheless attempted to draw the
focus away from repeal of the anti-camping ordinance.
"I think what [homeless] people need is a predictable, understandable
sense of what types of [camping] actions will get them rousted and what won't," Sten said. "The issue of changing the law is a much bigger conversation that will continue to rage as it has for 20 years."
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