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A Letter to Erik Sten on the passage of the new "Sit Lie" Ordinance

I do not appreciate the passage of the new "Sit Lie" Ordinance and wrote a letter to Mr. Erik Sten voicing my disapproval and my reasons for it.
Well, Mr. Sten, I can't believe I thought you were different. But I hear on KBOO this morning that you and all the other city council members passed Ms. Katz' "emergency" measure and took a stand against the homeless again today.

I understand that you, because you work downtown, have to politely deny panhandlers every day, and I know how this must make you feel. I too had to turn down the "spare change?" question multiple times a day for years. It makes you feel a wee bit guilty, a wee bit used, a wee bit angry, a wee bit disgusted... But it's wrong to tell these people they can't do that, and it's wrong to tell people they can't hang out in a public right-of-way - even if it is all day in the same spot. These people do not block the sidewalks. They do not even prevent people in wheelchairs from getting around. They also do not prevent access to businesses. I've been downtown. No one has any trouble getting around.

I know perfectly well that the sit-lie ordinance wasn't passed to prevent a hazardous situation. It wasn't passed to help people. It wasn't passed to do anything but assuage your and everyone else's minor feelings of guilt and disgust so that everyone might Christmas shop guilt- and disgust-free. Perhaps you think that if the tourists from Tigard didn't feel *ooky* when they came downtown, they would come downtown more - and, hooray! we'll all make more money. Well, it doesn't work quite that neatly. That place I used to have to turn down the multiple requests per hour for spare change was the Ave, in Seattle, before they passed their sit-lie ordinance. The sit-lie ordinance "worked;" it got the panhandlers off the street; but it also got rid of most of the color, richness and vibrancy of the Ave. There used to be a community there - no more. Now... guess what didn't happen? More shoppers didn't show up. The Ave is rather dead these days. There's many more closed shops than there were before the sit-lie ordinance passed. There is no major correlation between pan-handlers and numbers of shopping tourists.

I loved my Ave. I loved the "Ave Rats," the street kids with the blue hair and the multiple piercings who always said "spare change for beer?" or "spare change for psychiatric help?" I didn't like the old men who reeked of piss and alcohol. I gave change to none. I felt guilty. But nothing's quite so boring as the sterility of Disneyland, and I would rather take a few stinky people and guilty feelings than have a perfect pretty little world...

Needless to say, I shan't be voting for you again. I can't believe I thought you were different, just because you're my age.

Kathleen Mitchell
Boycott Portland Business Alliance Department Stores 16.Dec.2004 14:49

Alan Graf

Tomorrow at noon (friday), I am planning to stand (and move about so as not to be in violation of the ordinance) in front of Meier and Franks with a sign that says

"Meier and Franks is Anti-Christmas" and explain to interested pedestrians that as a member of the Portland Business Alliance they supported the passage of the new sit-lie ordinance which criminalizes sitting, kneeling, standing in one place or congregating with more than three people most places in downtown Portland. Wow!!

Read the ordinance posted at the City of Portland website. The fine print could read that if you wear a business suit, they won't touch you.

So much for the "Christmas spirit" of reaching out to the poor and downtrodden.

I deem this ordinance "THE SCROOGE ANTI-CHRISTMAS ACT." And I get to do that even though I am jewish. Why? Because Jesus was a hippy and jewish besides.

Ho ho ho,

Alan Graf,
the hippielawyer
in the finest tradition of my hippy foremothers

Radical Cheerleaders--Care to join me???

erik sten is not your ally 16.Dec.2004 15:35


erik sten is not your ally.

erik sten is a politician. like all politicians, he wants to please enough powerful people to build his resume and advance his career. sten has cultivated an image as a 'progressive liberal' in portland, but he has not actually stood up for any real change in the way portland treats its homeless and poor.

sten routinely talks about the city's 20 year plan on homelessness. beginning about 20 years ago, the city began to pour money into 'studying homelessness', but has done very little to END homelessness. translation: when grant money and so on is approved to be spent on homelessness in portland, it goes to employ more $45,000/year 'experts', rather than to alleviate the great suffering by the poor people on the streets. when is the city going to stop studying homelessness and start doing something constructive about it?

sten is a calculating player who is becoming more entrenched in the system. he wisely stayed out of the 2004 mayor's race because he knew he hadn't yet built his credibility enough to be taken seriously against a major league scumbag like jim fransesconi and a smooth (non) talker like tom potter. next to these guys, in this election, sten would have looked like the political neophyte, a tow-headed, gap-toothed schoolboy. if the victorious tom potter continues his long-established policy of fighting tooth and nail for the win, while rapidly slacking off and losing interest in the actual work at hand, sten may be primed to make a serious run for mayor in the next election.

hopefully, sten has learned a lesson from the ignominious political death of francesconi, who will surely go on to great riches serving his corporate masters in the halls of power in portland, salem, and washington, but i wouldn't count on it.

this new sit-lie 'law' will be challenged. even if it survives in court, portland's wealthy elite cannot continue to hide the plunging social and economic structure of our community. where else but onto the streets, into the doorways, meager shelters, soup kitchens, and under the bridges can portland's booming homeless population GO?! maybe the city should open up the manholes in the streets and cram a few thousand poor and homeless down into the sewers so the wealthy shoppers won't have to be burdened with reality when they bring their plastic into the city for christmas.

next: ban mental irregularities 16.Dec.2004 16:02


It may be that the greatest crime of our age is to not believe in the power of Big Pharma to fix things, and prevent people from being inquisitive and out there.

Next, it will be a city violation to procrastinate, or to bite your nails, etc...to look the wrong way, to skip or laugh and skip and sing, etc...to "make the wrong choice" in the Cheneyesque sense of the phrase

PS--how come they don't get tough on pursenatching? That's the true scourge of the holiday season, the silent menace, the un-victimless crime, the broken purse string crime of communal shame and disdain.

Badly written 16.Dec.2004 16:03

A cop (not a PDX cop though)

I just read through this ordinance, and if it is the same one the city just passed it is badly written. Basicaly, it says anybody that is on the sidewalk at any time, even standing up, is in violation. It is overbroad (and in law, that usually means unconstitutional), and seems to violate several other basic protections.

The panhandlers bug me a lot, but then again so do beanie babie stores. Outlawing them is not the solution.

Cops have always been able to cite a person for disorderly conduct if they are REALLY blocking the sidewalk, this law is unesessary. Who needs a law that makes sitting between a parking meter and a trash can illegal? There is a difference between "annoying conduct" and "illegal conduct."

Or at least there WAS.



arm the homeless

who's best inerest? 16.Dec.2004 17:36

respect for all

For a some time, I've tried to figure out the city's main obective in attempting to eliminate sparechanging downtown. "Aggressive Panhandling" has been one of the reasons regularly cited for the elimination of panhandling. As a routine characteristic of sparechanging, "aggressive panhandling" just doesn't ring true in terms of being a consistent characteristic of the activity. Common sense or even better, asking people who sparechange will readily acquaint you with the approach that best produces a return for their efforts: visible need, politeness, and sincerity.
So it is more likely than not, that people who display "aggressive panhandling" behavior are mental cases incapable of providing for themselves that the state, for budget reduction purposes, has elected to not adequately provide for. Those who don't fit this explanation may be drunks or people with criminal intent that police able to readily identify and deal with when called, and this is what should be done in that case.
If one takes the time to watch the phenomena of sparechanging, it's really a kind of fascinating thing. By no means is it a particularly negative thing. Passersby often get more respect from a homeless person, who may not even hit them up for spare change as they pass, than they possibly do from any of their business associates in a given day. The majority of homeless people downtown I've known and observed are easy going, humble and considerate of others, not that they don't have their gripes.
I have observed many people of apparently all different income status passing homeless persons sparechanging, and with beaming smiles on the faces, voluntarily stop, chat for awhile, and reach into their pockets for coins or cash, and part amicably.
People contribute money to homeless people for a variety of reasons. The sight of a fellow person in such a plight recalls personal memories for some. Others do so out of dis-satistfaction or loss of faith in the system created to address homelessness. They know that whether that money is going towards a sandwich, shelter, beer, or drugs, it was given to somebody in need by themselves in person, and that alone is a gesture of fellowship many people in this world are woefully in need of.
People that contribute know what they're doing with their money. It's up to them to decide the proper way to use it. If they choose to give it to an addict, it's up to them to decide if that's a responsible act. Having them do so is a healthy activity for the public. I do not think it's helpful to chase homeless people off to some derelict corner of the city out of view of those who are benefitted best by being accurately familiarized with straight up examples of just exactly where the great society is going.
The people of Portland certainly do owe the business community of the present and throughout Portland's history, recognition for the contribution they have made in creating the downtown I and many others love, but they do not exclusively own that creation or have the exclusive right to determine who may or may not conduct their lives downtown as god, fate, or destiny has ordained.

I think their may be ways to more effectively address homelessness and addictions and sparechanging that occurs as a result of it. This will take resources of imagination, conviction, committment and compassion.

bah humbug 16.Dec.2004 17:53


Sit-lie ordinance? I don't need no sit-lie ordinance.
Sit-lie ordinance? I don't need no sit-lie ordinance.

selective enforcement? 16.Dec.2004 20:05

enquiring minds

Bet they won't use it on those sick fuck christians who inhabit the corner by the pioneer courthouse with their hateful mural of the graveyard with everybody else's deity in it ("Here lies Mohammed", "Here lies Buddha", etc.) and who use small children to pass out their hate pamphlets. Boy they made me feel worse about being downtown than 20 or 30 panhandlers.

merry xmas to the rich....shop shop shop 17.Dec.2004 09:30

luke 19...jesus

the rich man and lazarus:
"there was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. there was also a poor man named lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man's door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rih man's table. even the dogs would come and lick his sores. the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside abraham at the feast in heaven. the rich man died and was buried, and in hades, where he was in great pain, he looked up and saw abraham, far away, with lazarus at his side. so he called out, 'father abraham! take pity on me, and send lazarus to dip his finger in some water and cool off my tongue, because i am in great pain in this fire!' but abraham said, 'remember, my son, that in your lifetime you were given all the good things, while lazarus got all the bad things. but now he is enjoying himself here, while you are in pain. besides all that , there is a deep pit lying between us, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot do so, nor can anyone cross over to us from where you are.' The rich man said, 'then i beg you, father abraham, send lazarus to my father's house, where i have five brothers. let him go and warn them so that they, at least, will not come to this place of pain.' abraham said, 'your brothers have moses and the prophets to warn them; your brothers should listen to what they say.' the rich man answered, 'that is not enough, father abraham!' but if someone were to rise from death and go to them, then they would turn from their sins.' but abraham said, 'if they will not listen to moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from death.'"

Here we go again 17.Dec.2004 10:13

not a cop

Okay, Portland hates homless people and are willing to violate both the US and Oregon Constitutions to express that hate.

Here's a strategy:

Someone needs to get arrested for violating this ordinance AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The ordinace won't stand up in court, it's even less constitutional than the last one that was thrown out.

Northwest Constititutional Law Center and/or Belmont Law Center or some other righteous lawyer(s) need to step up and agree to defend those who are arrested under this ordinance.

Any good cop out there should REFUSE to enforce this unconstitutional ordinance. Cops have a DUTY to know the law and to upphold it. A cop who knowingly enforces an ordinance that so blatantly violates basic constitutional rights will subject him/herself to a civil rights lawsuit. Those suits WILL BE BROUGHT and those cops who CHOOSE to engage in unlawfully arresting people under this ordinance WILL BE NAMED in those suits.

NOTE: My guess is the cops are being told to use this ordinance only on the poor and disenfranchised and not on demonstrators. This is a most evil tactic on their part and must be worked around. They are willing and anxious to prey on those who are struggling most and activists willing to step up to help are probably the best way to catch the predators. IF someone wants to challenge the sit-lie ordinance they might want to "look" the part. Cameras are always helpful - but in this instance "hidden" cameras would work best.

it's all in the legs 17.Dec.2004 10:34


all you would have to do to be in violation of this ordinance is to extend your legs on the sidewalk between 7am and 7pm. it is really that fucking stupid.

Not me 17.Dec.2004 22:46

Local police officer

I won't cite anyone under this ordinance. Take that at face value. If they are truly doing something wrong I will use whatever laws they are violating, but I will not use this one. Unless an activist asks me to.