portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary portland metro

homelessness | sustainability

Perspective on Portland streets

Some thoughts on downtown Portland
In St. Louis the District Court ruled the community court was unconstitutional. Portland - a progressive hotbed is becoming more and more militant towards homeless, panhandlers, people of color and activists through civility ordinances, DFZ, and laws meant to limit free speech and public dissent. All of these laws have an impact on specific fragmented communities - if the ACLU and other sympathatic law organizations worked with the community and made this a vocal point for 2006 - things could turn around. The dots have to be connected - and while there's nobody orchestrating these things to effect the entire group that's exactly what happens. The business community, private security, and law enforcement in a sense are driving the dogmatic agenda for Portland - We have to organize - and while this might not mean going out into the streets today, or actually changing the laws tomorrow - progressive business, smart people, organizations and people effected by these laws have to work together at some capcity to combat this kind of thinking. Portland's economy is not dead because of petty drug dealers, panhandlers and homeless people - it is dead becasue groups in the drivers seat are lost at sea.

The same people dealing drugs downtown are the same people who are being forced out there neighborhoods by gentrification - be it a person of color or a poor person. While thousands of service industry jobs are being held by people with college degrees and living wage jobs are competive and few - people with no education or only a high school education are working for little to nothing. So one man may choose to stand in front of a store and ask for change, while another decides to sell Street Roots, and yet another may choose to sell drugs or become a sex worker, while yet another may choose to stay working at a minimuim wage job that simply won;t pay the bills.

Now, I'm not any in way, shape or form advocating for the selling or drugs, or prostitution, but I am saying the people living this life aren't all bad people - they are products born out a social system that is broken. From health care to housing to homelessness to the loss of jobs - when things get tough for poor people - you get tough, not because you choose too, but because you have too. We've all made decisions in are lives that may or may not have been ethically responsible because circumstance and life led us there. None of us are perfect.

But jailing junkies, petty drug dealers - and handing out hundreds, if not thousands of DFZ, camping, sit-lie, park exclusions and trespassing tickets don't make the problem go away. They make the problem worse. And polarize good people trying to get by in life.

Blaming panhandlers and the homeless for economical woes is false and dogmatic. No grassroots homeless or housing organization would tell you that they want to be playing pettry politics with business groups and the city over these issues... Instead they would rather be working for something and doing creative and smart organizing to get more housing and jobs, etc. etc.

Instead laws and policies are being ran by DARE like philosaphy that simply have proven over the past 25 years not to work. The social service providers, police, business lobbyists, and people who have made a carreer in Portland out of such venchures are out of touch with who Portland is.

How many people who work for the Portland Business Alliance live in downtown? How many even live in Portland? They show up 8 hours a day 5 days a week and control the atmosphere in Portland 365 days a week. Not a smart strategy - can we say bland, boring, yawn - you've never heard anywhere under the age of 35 say, "Wow, I'm going to Portland to hang out downtown. Nope - not happening. And it's not because of panhandlers or somebody walking by you trying to sell some herb or smack. it's because the cool freakin places in Portland are made up of great and vibrant neighborhoods that surround downtown.

If Tom, Adam, Randy, Erik, and Dan - the five middle aged white guys at City Hall and the business community is serious about recapturing downtown Portland's economy they will have to reverse there train of thought of who's running Portland's streets - the people of Portland - be it poor and colorful - or the private security guards and police who just make a good person feel yuckie. Nobody wants to be watched over. We want to have fun. Let the panhandlin man shake his bootie for a hand - give us music, give us markets, give us more small businesses - not a Drug Free Zone and a anti-homeless two step.

Portland has the ability to support this kind of change - let's get to it.
dreams 19.Oct.2005 19:33


Tom, Adam, Randy, Erik, and Dan....when was the last time anybody ever saw one of those guys hanging out downtown? Unless it was one of those exclusive corralled events at pioneers square, or some soiree at the oregon historical society, art museum, symphony, etc. When was the last time you ever saw one of those guys just sitting on a bench in SoPkBlks? Have they even ever gone to the Famer's market in SoPkBlks?

Those people and others who have money and means that let them while away their time at exclusive events and places, want public areas nice and pretty for them to walk through, but don't want to do any of the work themselves by their own mere presence in the very places where unacceptable behavior and activities take place. They'd rather just shift that burden onto the cops, an orgaization not really suited to address the situation except as a last resort.

There could be a lot more events scheduled in public areas, all year round, that would appeal to people of limited means prepared to observe regulations and general courtesy towards others. Just there presence would pressure the most aggressive members of the dealer crowd to tone it down. The monied crowd would still be free to walk on down to the dependent restaurant, event, etc of their choice.

The public can be asked to support the creation of employment accessible to people of limitied skill and ability, thereby addressing the fundamental problem of homelessness and poverty, but don't expect them to rally to your cause unless their person or property is in iminent danger of being jepordized. In fact, the presentation of that potential reality is probably one of the key motivating factors involved in coaxing some donors to kick down cash to a homelesss services provider.

Walk around downtown. There is so much work in public areas that goes undone. Weeding, raking, cleaning, polishing, pruning, etc. Sure, it's kind of menial, but I bet you, especially if their housing was taken care of through the city's 10 year plan to end homelessness, there would be a lot of people who would love the opportunity to do a bit of work for some pocket change. Implement some conditions to receiving the work, deal with concerns about exploitation, and it could fly.

For the most part, the public is far too comfortable with the competitive society principle. He who works hardest, finnesses the deal, etc, etc, gets the job. The rest luck out.

I'm not comfortable with this 20.Oct.2005 13:02


"So one man may choose to stand in front of a store and ask for change, while another decides to sell Street Roots, and yet another may choose to sell drugs or become a sex worker, while yet another may choose to stay working at a minimuim wage job that simply won;t pay the bills.
Now, I'm not any in way, shape or form advocating for the selling or drugs, or prostitution...."

It may not have been your intention, but the way this is worded, it sounds like you are equating the sellign of drugs and prostitution as morally reprehensible things. When someone is selling drugs (I'm not talking about pot) they're exploiting other people's addictions. A prostitute isn't hurting other people--it's prostitutes who are frequently beat up, sexually assaulted and murdered. If you were talking about pimps I think it would be a more legitimate comparison.