I call it a squat because it is the only place that about a dozen of my neighbors have to live, but really it is just a covered sidewalk in front of where the old Safeway used to be and Top to Bottom and a Big Five now inhabit. This area provided a mostly dry area for these good people to sleep, lock up their bikes, and hang out with friends. For the past year that has been the extent of what they have done there. I have never seen any violent activity nor drug use/selling from any of these kind folks. In fact I have never even seen the police called on any of them, EVER.
Today something was different. As the Portland Development Commission or PDC continues their quest for urban renewal they have managed to attract new business to the area. These businesses are looking to benefit from the new light rail train that will run down I-205, the new farmers market, and of course the increased property value a lifeless commercial look brings. One of these interested businesses is Big 5 Sporting Goods. This week is Big 5's Grand Opening.
As I rode my bike past the cop cars and stopped a comfortable distance away to keep an eye on the officers I couldn't help but stand in awe at how quickly gentrification changes the face of a neighborhood. The police had formed a barrier between the consumers that were happily streaming in and out of the new retail establishment and the people whos' very existence our society has declared as illegal.
From what I could see. The cops did not physically attack anyone nor did they make any arrests. However, they did destroy the only home these people knew when they declared that if they returned they would be trespassing.
I offered them food and bus fare, but they were obviously shaken and angry and chose just to get away from the cops, and find a new place to sleep tonight.
How long will it take the people of this city to realize that gentrification is caused by the priority we put on property over people. If the PDC really wants to renew urban areas they should try investing in the people of an area instead of creating playgrounds for consumers that attract already well off people to an area.
Recently, the Portland City Council passed a resolution to set aside 30% of PDC funds for affordable housing. However, I fail to see how any of those people today would have benefited from affordable housing (Which I can't even afford with a job that makes nearly $10 an hour). It is increasingly obvious that the PDC benefits those with money at the expense of those without. The only answer I see is the complete dissolvement of the PDC and more programs like Food Not Bombs that will help benefit a neighborhood through mutual aid.
I still have hope that this city can be saved from corporate interests, and we all can look beyond the spectacle of new retail stores and higher property value before we all lose our homes to a giant city wide mall (which of course would be full of nature and organic stores so as to keep the appearance of being "progressive").