At 5:30am on Thursday, May 15 between 20-30 Portland Police officers swarmed City Hall to clear peacefully sleeping protesters off the sidewalk. Left with little time to gather their belongings before being threatened with arrest some protesters lost possessions. The police did not say that the protesters were being moved due to any violation but rather because the sidewalk needed to be cleaned.
Many protesters were shocked and insulted by the heavy handed approach of the police in clearing out their protest, saying that they would have responded if the request to temporarily relocate had been made by as few as two officers instead of more than two dozen. At least one other campsite was swept during the same night, clearing out several people that had left the City Hall protest.
Immediately after being cleared from City Hall protesters held an impromptu coordinating meeting across the street, forming a new alliance, United Poor People (UPP). UPP is continuing the struggle through an inclusive and empowering movement based on consensus of those involved, attempting to bring together people that live on the street with other members of the community that have shown support for the struggle. There are a number of safety issues faced by people staying on the streets and UPP provides a safe space for a larger body of people to stay together.
The protest has been ongoing for over 20 days, starting April 25th, since police performed sweeps at many of the common camp sites that people were staying at. Larger issues have become key such as the lack of adequate housing, shelters that provide space for those with mental and physical health issues, couples and people with pets, as well as for sexual minorities and increased space for women. The existing shelters, which police gave information for during the sweep, are already full as are the beds that Mayor Tom Potter has trumped up for the media. Of the additional beds that Potter cites, only 12 were available for women, with a waiting list of 45 women already. Most of the shelters that were on the sheet given to protesters require TB documentation and the services for TB tests were closed on the day of the sweep.
An immediate goal set forth by UPP is to counter a series of false statements made in the mainstream media, notably The Oregonian, including the claim that the protest encampment had been disbanded on the previous Tuesday. Additionally, Mayor Tom Potter's office has been given credit for starting dialog with the protesters while it was in fact the protesters that had been pressuring him for a meeting. Potter eventually gave a meeting that was not public, as protesters had requested, and issued a response that had been typed up before the meeting even took place.
Protesters have stated that they would stop sleeping at City Hall if a temporary Green Zone was approved to allow those without houses to camp in a safe environment. This would require repealing the Camping ordinance and protesters would like to see the Sit and Lie ordinance repealed as well. The Sit and Lie ordinance was passed with the pre-conditions that several new bathrooms and benches would be built but there has been a lack of follow through on the part of the city.
More long-term solutions are being debated by UPP such as searching for ways to provide affordable housing for people who are poor. Innovative changes must be addressed with proper representation for the poor instead of solely allowing existing service providers to make decisions.
Please come out to support members of your community because this issue effects all people. Any time is good for people to come down but especially on Wednesday morning for the City Council meeting at 9:00am. For more information please contact UnitedPoorPeople@gmail.com.