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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mayor Asks For Feedback On Free Sidewalk Plan

Posted by Matt Davis on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 8:20 PM

Here's the draft. I like it. You?

Update, Wednesday September 22, 5:14pm

Activist group Soapbox Under The Bridge has emailed the following response to city commissioners.

Dear Mayor and City Council Members,

We at Soapbox, a non-profit organizing project around homelessness, would like to thank you for your efforts around our community's continued emergency, homelessness. We realize a great effort has been expended by each of you to create and support programs and tools that will help people end their homelessness.

As a project organizing around homelessness, we were asked to respond to the Mayor's "Downtown Draft Sidewalk Management Plan Concepts" document from a week ago. A lot more effort has obviously been expended in finding out about the sidewalks and what happens on them this time around, compared to the "sit/lie" law (or Sidewalk Obstruction ordinance) that preceded this document. We do however have a few questions and worries.

First: Although we applaud the city's continued efforts, including the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness, we worry when services are tied to, or mentioned in documents dealing with "protecting sidewalks." This gives the impression of a "carrot and stick" approach to ending homelessness. A stick is not needed, nor does the city need to punish people for sleeping outside. We feel that the coupling of services to laws was one of the many key faults with the last ordinance.

Second: We hope that the "criminal zero tolerance" policy does not just include Portland's low income and homeless populations. Any stated goal around continuing police policy in this area must recognize that others besides homeless people commit crimes. This is especially worrisome to us as the two examples given in the draft document were both activities that were used during the "sting" from a few months ago as the police's response to the declaration by a Circuit Court Judge that the Sit/Lie law was unconstitutional. A sting where they admitted in Oregonian coverage to targeting homeless people. This seems it could quickly become a targeted response—see, for example, this Oregonian article entitled "Portland grapples with homeless issue after ruling on sidewalk ordinance."

Third: "Give Real Change, Not Spare Change." Aside from the fact that this could be perceived as stealing dignity from homeless people, or lacking the recognition that a person might not always make the wrong choice to give money to a homeless person, there is also the worry that this could become a "don't give under any circumstances" ordinance.

Fourth: "Downtown Signature Retail District Strategy." Although we appreciate the Portland Business Alliance and others' efforts to make downtown a premiere place for tourism and shopping, we also feel it is important that people be able to live there, including our poorest and homeless. Please do not give to much of our downtown or its control to an organization that has only one interest at heart.

Fifth: Although not directly mentioned in the Sidewalk Management Initiative sheet we received, we worry about how this law or process will interact with Tri-Met, street sweepers, and other users of portions of the sidewalk.

We would be happy to meet with you, or any others over this important issue in the future.

Thank you.

Soapbox Under the Bridge

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