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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

200 People Talk Homelessness & Sit/Lie

Posted by Matt Davis on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 3:08 PM

Update, 4:40pm: Even the Oregonian's right-wing columnist Elizabeth Hovde has written a smart editorial against the sit/lie law. It's nice to see folks right of center recognizing this for the moral issue it is, and not trying to politicize it.

Retailers argue, rightly so, that customers feel uncomfortable or even unsafe around the homeless who frequent the streets near their businesses. And I feel for them. I feel for me when I go downtown to shop. I know the discomfort they are talking about.

But making it punishable to sit or lie isn't the answer. And, frankly, we all need to feel the discomfort on a regular basis. It might prompt more of us to act, donating money or giving time to resources that help reunite families, return people to self-sufficiency and prevent the drug problems that often lead to homelessness.

Original Post: City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish held the second of two "sharing spaces" dialog forums last night at the First Unitarian church on SW Salmon. The idea was originally to talk about the controversial sit/lie ordinance, although since a judge declared it unconstitutional and the cops stopped enforcing the law, the idea instead was to have a dialog about homelessness.

Oregon is now ranked first in homelessness, second in joblessness, and third in hunger nationally. “Rather than engage in a divisive debate about our sidewalks let's engage the whole community in a debate about how we solve the problem,” Fish told KGW late last week. Last night Fish and Fritz took notes after an hour of small group discussion.
1694/1248298261-fritzfish.jpg

FRITZ AND FISH: DID THEIR "LISTENING" WITH DRY ERASE MARKERS...

"This is the beginning of a conversation," said Fritz. "Or...it's an ongoing conversation. The SAFE group [the group formed by former mayor Tom Potter to address sidewalk obstruction issues] has done such a wonderful job over the last three years of bringing us to a point where we can sit down and have these conversations."

It's hard for this reporter to take the discussions so seriously. If only as much energy had been invested by those pushing for the sit/lie ordinance over the last three years in solving the root causes of homelessness, perhaps I'd be less cynical. Nevertheless I respect Fritz's obvious sincerity in pursuing the discussions, and it's nice I suppose to see Fish actually showing up in person, for once.

Dinner was provided for those who needed it, free of charge by homeless nonprofit Sisters of the Road. Members of the Portland Business Alliance intermingled with homeless advocates and homeless people themselves as people discussed the back-and-forth on this issue. Here's a few things that got written down at the end, by Fish and Fritz:

1.SAFE hasn't been reaching out to enough people.
2.There aren't enough lockers and showers for homeless people.
3.Don't assign a set of behaviors to any one group.
4.Healthcare coverage needs to be extended to homeless people, especially those with mental health and substance abuse issues.
5.Look at the Santa Cruz law on aggressive panhandling.
6.Japan has a capsule model for homeless people.
7.There's a continuumn of homelessness...some people are more aggressive than others.
8.There's profiling of the homeless.
9.There aren't enough bathrooms for homeless people.
10.People are being told to move along to somewhere with a 10-week waiting list.
11.There's plenty of empty space in Pearl District condos that aren't selling.
12.Business people have rights as well as the homeless.
13.There are long-term plans to build a Resource Access Center for the homeless.
14.Job creation efforts might help.
15.We need to find a solution from the ground up.
16.The group really appreciated the "spirit" of the dialog.
17.Street Roots' Resource Guide has been very helpful.
18.The business community has been proactive.
19.This is the first time people have seen so much communication on homelessness from city hall.
20.There need to be shelter options for LGBT people and single fathers.
21.There's still a sense of bubbling harassment for homeless people.
22.Resources for homeless people have never met the political plans.

"I hear concern about political will on city council, but the political will is you," said Fritz to the room, afterward. "Look who made the difference over and over again by bringing up the problems with the sidewalk obstruction ordinance."

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