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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oregonian Does Good Reporting on Homelessness

Posted by Matt Davis on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 11:33 AM

I wrote that as a headline because as far as I'm aware, this is news. Former city hall beat reporter Jim Mayer has moved back to the mothership and spent the last few days chronicling tensions between downtown shoppers and tourists and the homeless there. The piece is measured in tone, and quotes people on the street who are surprisingly accepting of the issues thrown up by the demise of the sit/lie ordinance. The only time the Portland Business Alliance is quoted is in reference to a survey of how many downtown workers there are—a refreshing change from the historic "quote the PBA" approach to this subject. Perhaps this is coincidence after yesterday's prescription for the O to push its beat writers to express their opinions more, but it's also great to read Mayer's personal take on the reporting he's been doing. Mayer, it turns out, was homeless for two years in the early seventies:

I was homeless by choice. My wife ran away with a Scientologist. I dropped out of college and hit the road. I played music on the street, mainly to grub money for cigarettes and coffee, my two addictions in those days.

A reporter being honest about his life experience and how it's impacting his reporting! YES! Meanwhile Maxine Bernstein's cough "objective" piece quoting the Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese on the demise of the sit/lie law is also pretty cutting: It makes Reese look like a cry-baby who's had his bottle taken away:
"It's been very frustrating for us. The ordinance gave us a low-level effective tool to mitigate the behavior," Central Precinct Cmdr. Mike Reese says. "Now, it's like driving a thumbtack with a sledgehammer."

Diddums. It's so irritating having to comply with the Oregon constitution. Mike: Now you can't just send your rent-a-cop army out to harass these street kids on your behalf, it looks like your actual police officers might be required to do some policing. Personally I take great satisfaction from this. It's what we pay you for. And if you've got to charge them with offensive littering, hey, at least that's an actual crime, unlike sitting down in the street. It would be nice to read a blog by Bernstein chronicling how her years spent on the same patch (I thought this was against the paper's philosophy?) chronicling the Police might have influenced her take on things, too. But at least there was a link to Mayer's story in the midst of things.

For those otherwise interested in homelessness there's a new exhibition called Where I Slept tonight at the AIA Portland, near Pizza Schmizza in the Pearl. Read more about it at Portland Architecture. Basically, it's pictures of where people slept, taken by homeless people. Talk about the power of reporting on subjective experience:

389a/1249582584-6a00d8341c86d053ef0120a52154b4970c-450wi.jpg

WHERE I SLEPT: 5:30-8:30 TONIGHT

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