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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Right 2 Dream Too Statement Declares "Victory" Over Planned Move

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Sun, Sep 8, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Though Commissioner Amanda Fritz threw up some minor caution as news emerged late Friday that a solid deal to move Right 2 Dream Too had been reached, officials with the site, this weekend, have drafted a statement "declaring victory" and shedding some more light on the terms.

And one detail has changed since Friday's post. The press conference is now expected to go off at 1 pm Monday, not 12:30 as I'd reported.

The agreement—to move the rest area beneath the Broadway Bridge, drop a lawsuit, and waive thousands in code fines—puts to rest weeks of negotiations among Fritz, Right 2 Dream Too, current 4th and Burnside landlord Michael Wright, and Mark Kramer, the attorney representing both R2DToo and Wright. Late disagreements surfaced over the fate of Wright's land and the fundamental legal issue presented in Kramer's suit challenging the city's code fines: whether the city had correctly labeled the site a "recreational" campground.

The statement doesn't make clear what will happen to Wright's land. He had proposed three options to the city: 1) Keeping open, technically, his right to host another homeless camp. 2) Putting food carts on the land despite rules forbidding it. 3) Or having the city buy the land.

But it does spell out that dropping the lawsuit shouldn't be seen as an admission, by Kramer or his clients, that the city was legally correct in fining the current site.

"There were a number of complicated hurdles to overcome in order to get this very positive result,” Kramer said in the statement, obtained by the Mercury. “Although the lawsuit was dismissed, all parties acknowledged that the issue is still open as to whether houseless people, with the permission of the owner, have the right to sleep safely on private property without interference by the city.”

Moving beneath a bridge ramp—the Lovejoy ramp off the Broadway—also was a tough sell for the site and its members. The 23-month-old site is part rest area—providing refuge and safe sleep for dozens of people a day—and part protest. It's NW 4th and Burnside location has kept the group and the issues it's trying to address, homelessness and poverty, thrust squarely into the city's face.

But the group's statement makes the best of what was clearly a difficult tradeoff.

“The site under the Lovejoy on-ramp to the Broadway Bridge has many positive aspects,” board member Trillium Shannon said in the statement. “Services and buses are within walking distance and the overpass will provide excellent protection from the elements. This is an historical first in Portland. Previously, the City demanded that Dignity Village locate their site in East Portland far from services and convenient public transportation.”

Fritz had some help from Hales in getting a deal in place. She's supported the site tacitly since it opened, even with colleagues like Nick Fish, the city's former housing commissioner, and Dan Saltzman, the current one, expressing misgivings about how and whether the rest area fits among the city's other housing priorities.

Saltzman, when I sat down with him to talk about housing issues last month, told me he was skeptical of efforts. He'd come out as a big back of adding shelter capacity and permanent housing—softening that, in the face of criticism, to also embrace short-term rent assistance. R2DToo says it's goal is helping people who aren't well enough to join or otherwise don't fit with the social services system. (It also provides a refuge for people who find themselves unsheltered because of waiting lists and limited capacity.)

"It's still a camp and that's not where we want to be spending our money," he said. "I wouldn't want to see short-term rent assistance money being diverted to Right 2 Dream Too."

At the time, it wasn't clear whether any city money would be spent on relocation. Fritz has since told the Mercury that some costs will probably be incurred—from things like setting up the new site with electrical and water service. Any deal would have to come to council for approval, too, Fritz has said.

"That's why I'm trying to keep a wall of separation between the housing bureau" and the site, Saltzman said. "It may just happen. My colleagues may say this is how it's going to be and I'll just live with it.""

Ibrahim Mubarak, spokesman for the site, said the tentative agreement shows that some people in the city, at least, have begun to see the light on Right 2 Dream Too's work.

“Since October 2011 Right 2 Dream Too has provided shelter and other services for an average of 60 people per night who otherwise would have been forced to sleep on the streets,” he said. “This self-organized grassroots model is both legal and effective. But even with our success, a recent study revealed that close to 1,900 children, women and men in Portland are without a safe place to sleep every night. This agreement shows that the City is acknowledging the problem and starting to work with us instead of against us.”

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