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Friday, March 15, 2013

Bad Budget Year? Time to Fire Up the Ol' Safety Net Campaign

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 11:29 AM

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Last spring, despite what seemed like an awful city budget gap, a grass-roots campaign nurtured by Street Roots and a panoply of other providers and activists managed to not only fend off proposed cuts to safety net programs but also win a huge victory for future funding.

The campaign was called "I Support the Portland Safety Net," and politicians and other local holders of fame helped lift it into a position of effective prominence in city hall. (It also helped that Mayor Sam Adams was wheeling and dealing for a schools bailout and was looking for a vote from then-housing Commissioner Nick Fish.)

Fast forward a year, however, and things aren't looking just as bad. They're way worse. And that's why, this morning, the campaign was relaunched and rebranded in hopes of making a similar splash. This year's reboot is called "We Are the Safety Net." The coalition is hoping to fend off as much as $2.3 million in newly proposed housing cuts that would undo last year's victories. Those cuts would go painfully deep, touching programs like the Clark Center men's shelter, winter shelter space for women and families, and rent assistance checks. (A detailed list is here.)

The campaign comes as the city contemplates closing fire stations, laying off cops, easing up on parks maintenance, and very likely asking workers throughout its bureaus to forgo future pay hikes. So far, in the face of those choices, only the Clark Center has received a faint whisper of reprieve from the city budget office.

The center is run by Transition Projects, which is run, in turn, by Doreen Binder, who was ready to serve as treasurer for Police Chief Mike Reese's almost-maybe-probably mayoral campaign in late 2011. Binder was at a community budget forum in St. Johns this Tuesday asking for the center to remain open—noting the immediate effect of kicking 90 more men onto the streets and the ripple effect closure would have on shelter waiting lists. She's even found a high-profile city hall lobbyist in the Portland Business Alliance, through its Clean & Safe arm (pdf).

"We Are the Safety Net" isn't willing to leave things there, though.

"We realize the city has a lot of hard choices. We also know that there's no more important issue facing our city today than the social safety net," says Israel Bayer, director of Street Roots. "We believe that the city should absolutely fund the Clark Center. "We also believe they can find a way to fund a range of important services provided by the housing bureau and one-time money. We have elderly grandmothers sleeping on our streets. We have individuals literally dying out here and government has important role to play. Everyone deserves an opportunity for housing."

Show your support by raising your hand, as I've done at the top of this post, and showing it to the internet. And city hall.

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