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community building | homelessness

closing South Park Blocks?

Business owners are concerned about rowdy and unsightly people in the Park Blocks again.
I have just been hearing that once again there are business owners who think that people are loitering in the South Blocks. Words used were, panhandling, aggressive and unsightly. Here we go again. Is this a serious threat to close down the area in the evenings? I do not live in Portland, but have been in the Park Blocks during the day. Sure there are people sitting on the benches and some look as if they might not have homes to go home to, but is that reason to shut down the area? I keep hearing about attempts to force the"less fortunate" (what does that mean) people to leave. Ok. Where do they go? Why can't everyone just get along? Do the business owners have the entire say about what kind of city Portland will be? I am sick to death of the whole gentrification movement.
Is it Economic Scapegoating? 10.Oct.2005 22:16


How much of the bidness in that area relies on discretionary spending--i.e. carriage trade tossing off funds above and beyond the daily necessities? As the regime's economy writhes and heaves, as "consumer confidence" dips, as tank fillups start going into three figures, perhaps the swells are not so inclined to hit the hot spots lining the Blocks.

The anxious owners look out their windows and fantasize that in the absence of clientel, the Park folk look the more present and therefore must be the cause of slack trade. If their cash registers were beeping and booping non-stop, would they give a hoot about who and how many are sitting "too long" on the park benches across the street?

Its tough. 10.Oct.2005 22:26


I live in the area in a crummy mini-studio and I often feel unsafe, sometimes at night but usually during the day. It seems I'm either held hostage by the hostile homeless drug addicts and dealers that patrol the sidewalk or I'm held hostage by the hostile irrational police force that do the same.

SoPkBlk situation critical 11.Oct.2005 00:27


It's not a question of whether or not people are loitering in the South Park Blocks...they definitely are, but that in itself is not the problem. The park is there for everyone to enjoy equally. Anybody, regardless of income level, class, creed or color is welcome, and has a right to use the park...as long as rules regulating the use of the park are observed.

For a long time, the park has had a problem with a very select and conspicuous group of people. Their purpose in being there is to drink alcohol and also, use and sell drugs. Signs posted stating these activities are prohibitited are routinely defaced or torn down.

I believe many people not of that group....others enjoying the park, in other words... are realistic in that they expect that they might pass by some people quietly having a drink, or even smoking pot in violation of rules. I don't think the average person has a problem with this.

The greater problem is that the behavior of regular drunks, drug users and dealers in the park has descended to extremely offensive levels. Imagine what this is like for nice old ladies and children who might like to stroll through the park.

The South Park Blocks have become a virtual open market for the sale of all kinds of drugs, pot bein the most common, but trust me, everything is available through someone in this regular group. The vast majority of users and dealers in this goup are civil and sociable. You can share mutual respect and have a civil conversation with them. Of course, as is the case here, there's often an especially problematic percentage of a group who is responsible for raising the level of a problem to stratospheric heights.

In the SoPkBlks, it's most likely the meth heads responsible for this. Some of the people in the group are super paranoid. They hit you up for a sale, but if you don't buy, despite being someone who passes through the park frequently, they start to worry about the snitch factor.

It doesn't matter if you're civil to them. You can't win with these super paranoid characters. If you're friendly but don't buy, they suspect you of being a snitch. If you walk by ignoring their pitch for a drug sale or spare change, they blow you off as an asshole, and behave especially rude and obnoxious.

Frequently, this group gathers in a big cluster of 10-20 people around a bench under the elms, spilling out into the walkway so that passing by them requires close proximity....rubbing shoulders distance. This is not a good situation for frail or vulnerable people, especially when the group is intimidating by nature. At night, under cover of the thick elms where the light from the street lamps doesn't reach too well, this can be really scary.

Periodically, the city does sweeps, and clears them out for awhile, but they always come back. One contingent of the group that occupied the cocrete stage area of Shemanski plaza, went back to their old place at the waterfront area across from where Saturday Market sets up on the weekends. That was a relief, but now that neighborhood again has a problem it doesn't need.

In all fairness, this group is not fully responsible for this problem. They are throwaway people...people dismissed of value, typecast as incorrigible. For the most part, there is no work for them or opportunity to improve their lives in keeping with the american ideal, even when they give up dope and demonstrate willingness and an ability to work. They have that history and potential for recidivism that is very, very hard to shake.

Jobs need to be created that are accessible to these people so they have some options to develop or apply unknown or underutilized skill and abilities. Many more already stable people are needed to work with these people than presently exist.

Another thing that would help the general situation of obnoxious behaviour in the park, is if stable people were making a greater presence in the park.... actually using the park to a greater degree besides simply walking through it to go from their condos to work, to expensive restaurants, the symphony, to shopping. Ironically, the park junkie/dealers are the one group that uses the park probably more than any other group. Without them, in the evening, just like at Pioneer Square, the park would be kind of desolate.

I don't think the average person really has to fear much for safety at any hour in SoPkBlks. Check with the police and the Portland Oregon Vistors Association and I think you'll find very few documented cases of the park regulars actually assaulting someone not of their own group if any. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for the widely intimidating, threatening presence this group represents. They can be there, but they need to shape up or ship out, one way or another.

bunch of wimps 11.Oct.2005 00:33


i just have to say that i find it utterly ridiculous that portlanders can't seem to handle the presence of homeless people. people seem focused on creating a city that is basically a suburb with tall buildings. EVER MAJOR CITY HAS HOMELESS PEOPLE, and they are always panhandling. go to any subway station in new york, and tell me we have it bad in portland. and people seem to get by jsut fine. isn't the whole point of a city being exposed to people from radically different backgrounds and economic statuses than your own? but portlanders get sketched out if some guy asks them for a buck. JUST SAY NO if you don't want to give them a buck. closing the south park blocks just because there are homeless people is jsut another sign that PORTLANDERS ARE A BUNCH OF PRETENTIOUS OVER-PRIVILEGED WIMPS. they want all the privileges of city life, but seem to get traumatized at even the smallest reminder of the price others must pay for their social and economic status. we are in the process of creating a bougeois utopia, where the beautiful, rich and white can consume consume consume and NEVER have to think about the people they've stepped on to get there. another sign that this "green city"'s soul is slowly being eaten away by the march of free market capitalism, as more and more people let themselves become commodities instead of humans. because any human being can handle someone asking for fifty cents, and--WOW!--MIGHT EVEN HELP ANOTHER PERSON OUT ONCE IN A WHILE. sickening.

Economic Scapegoating? 11.Oct.2005 04:45

Ecotopian Yeti

I agree it is Economic Scapegoating, but I think we should call this by the dirty word that reflects the deeper social issues... IT IS CLASS WARFARE! And the more we start pointing out what class warfare is then we can then start addressing the over all issues .. capitalism, corporatism, fascism, sexism, gender chauvinism, racism, classism, ablitism, ageism and all the other isms of hate that class warfare is a symptom of.

abby 11.Oct.2005 08:21


If only all of the isims could be wasims.

neverending 11.Oct.2005 09:27


I do understand some of that frustration. It is terrible to see so much going wrong in this world and feel powerless to do anything about it. That is why we must be cautious about the power we do have.
Where does violence end? Who decides who are the 'good guys' and who are the bad ones? Are you totally confident in your abilities to do that after a fleeting glance into a crowd? I used to think I could see the differences, but the line is getting very fuzzy these days. Those I once thought would help are now the ones that make me very afraid.

hey citydweller 11.Oct.2005 10:31


i think it is ridiculous for you to single out the rich and white as the only problem consumers....people consume. i see all people consume...and even the poor often do not make responsible choices how they spend their money (responsible in neither social or environmental context). don't make consumption an ethnic issue...i don't think any race or creed can be let off the hook for our societies wastefulness. the rich can obviously buy more shyt, but the poor would do it too if they had the money.

Hey citydweller 2 11.Oct.2005 12:27


"Portlanders" are not a monolithic group, "Portlanders" are not calling for the closing of the Park Blocks, downtown business leaders are. Portland is one of if not the most tolerant city in the country for homeless people. Blazers point guard Sebastian Telfair who is from Brooklyn was once quoted as saying (paraphrased) "man, you see a lot homeless people in New York, but nothing like this with big groups hanging out together". That being said I agree that downtown business leaders want to boot out anyone who isn't a rich white yuppie, but they whine all the time and just because they want something doesn't mean they'll get it, if you'll remember the call to get the fareless square removed. Ostensibly for "security" reasons, but clearly aimed at removing poor people from the central core.

OH! 11.Oct.2005 21:27


I thought this post was reporting problems with the TV show. If it's just people in trouble, I'll keep it out of the news.