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CATHERINE "JASMINE" Perkins was panhandling as usual on the corner of SW 6th and Morrison on Monday morning, June 23.
"Pregnant, broke, and waiting for housing. Need $20, please help," read her cardboard sign. Perkins—who dresses in the uniform of gutter punks everywhere—makes $30 dollars on an average day. But sometimes, especially now that she's four months pregnant, she gets too tired to stand for the whole day, so she sits down—and then gets cited for breaking the city's controversial sit-lie ordinance.
Since last November, Perkins has received 11 such tickets—unless you ask the police bureau, which has vastly underreported data on Perkins and the sit-lie law.
"According to [the police], I've only gotten a warning. But that's bullshit," she says.
According to the cops' official statistics given to the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) Oversight Committee, which watchdogs the way the sit-lie ordinance is enforced, Perkins only received one verbal warning under the sit-lie law, back in February (a warning is a prerequisite for a citation). But a search of the Oregon Judicial Information Network confirms Perkins' story: She got a citation each month between November 2007 and January 2008, four in February, one in March, two in April, and one in May.
It's not clear why or how Perkins' citations fell through the data-reporting cracks, but the omission of her data is politically significant: Her repeated ticketing suggests the ordinance is being used overwhelmingly to target street kids—something proponents of the law have denied since its inception. Before the Mercury found Perkins, the street kid with the most repeat citations under the sit-lie law was Correy Gene Douglas Newman, who had received three, according to the city's data.
"I feel disappointed that it seems, somewhere in the process, data is slipping through the cracks," says Patrick Nolen, community outreach organizer for homeless nonprofit Sisters of the Road—which left the SAFE Oversight Committee last month to campaign for a repeal of the law.
Perkins has a blunter perspective.
"They don't want the public to know how many tickets they're giving to homeless people," says Perkins, who has racked up $3,000 in fines for the citations. "The cops are just doing this because their bosses are telling them to come down here and harass the homeless and drive them out of downtown. You only matter if you've got money, nowadays."
"I'm concerned," says the SAFE Oversight Committee Co-Chair, Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center. "I understand this is the result of a data error, but I don't know yet whether it's an isolated error, or if there are other citations that weren't captured in the data collection that normally happens."
The police bureau is now doing an exhaustive data review by hand, and Goracke expects to be updated at the next SAFE meeting on July 10. The mayor's office, police bureau, and Portland Business Alliance did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
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