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Friday, January 3, 2014

Portland Business Alliance Dismisses Right 2 Dream Too as "Illegal Camp," Not an "Appropriate Answer" to Homelessness

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 1:29 PM

The Portland Business Alliance has hardly kept its disdain for Right 2 Dream Too—Old Town's tent-based rest area for the homeless—much of a secret.

In December 2012, it asked Commissioner Dan Saltzman to evict the group, citing a crime spike that actual crime numbers proved wrong. More recently, last September, it sent Commissioner Amanda Fritz a letter urging against her plan to move the site to a city lot beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp on the border of the Pearl District.

And on December 16, just before the holidays, the PBA weighed in once again (pdf). This time, according to letters and emails obtained by the Mercury, President Sandra McDonough wrote the city council to stick up for Old Town/Chinatown—and reaffirm Mayor Charlie Hales' promise (reported by the Oregonian) that any permanent home for R2DToo would be somewhere else. Hales has proposed moving the site into an empty warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt for no more than 15 months.

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But that letter wasn't the end of McDonough's conversation with city hall. Fritz wrote her back a few days later—saying she wanted to see more than one site like R2DToo in Portland and also suggesting the business community "step up" with more funding for social services. And that's when McDonough got down to brass tacks and revealed just how little the PBA (publicly) understands the mechanics of R2DToo.

Whereas Fritz had described the site as "a safe place for people experiencing houselessness... to sleep in safety without being roused by police or private security," McDonough still clung to the notion that the well-run, volunteer-led organization was nothing more than an "illegal camp." (Hit the jump to see the full emails exchanged by Fritz and McDonough.)

"Saying the answer is having the business community 'step up' with funds to build shelters fails to recognize the city’s obligation," McDonough wrote back, later adding, "We do not think an illegal camp is now, or ever has been, an appropriate answer."

McDonough will have to work hard to convince the city council otherwise. Fritz has been a stalwart champion for Right 2 Dream Too. And Hales, though he helped complicate the plan to move the site into the Pearl, has also taken pains to say how much he appreciates R2DToo's work and model.

And as for progress leading toward a move? Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the owners of the Hoyt property were willing to let things glide through the holidays and that nothing's really changed, except for some more meetings.

There's also still no firm deadline, Haynes says. However, he pointed out correctly, "we're through the holidays."

Fritz's letter, from December 22, emphasis ours:

Thank you for your letter on behalf of the Portland Business Alliance regarding the proposed relocation of the Right to Dream Too rest area.

Many people who have been living outside for a while are not ready/willing to move into shelters or apartments. Some veterans, couples, people with pets, and others would rather stay outside than be forced inside into situations they believe do not meet their basic need of being treated with respect. Right to Dream Too’s model provides a safe place for people experiencing houselessness, with these needs, to sleep in safety without being roused by police or private security. They not only promote safety and rest, they promote a sense of security, community and self-worth that other shelter models or many permanent housing situations do not.

It would be wonderful if the business community were to step up with additional funding for shelters and permanent housing, for those choosing those routes out of houselessness. Given that there are close to 2,000 people living outside in Portland (more than in the entire state of Utah, where there is a policy of providing permanent homes for everyone) due to lack of funding for permanent affordable housing and/or shelters, I believe we need a place or places for the Right to Dream Too model. I will continue to work with Right to Dream Too and the Mayor to find one or more appropriate location(s).

McDonough's reply to Fritz, from December 23 (emphasis ours):

Amanda, thank you for your note. The business community of Portland already is a generous and consistent supporter of programs serving the homeless and low-income families. If you were to check with such programs as Central City Concern, Transitions Projects, New Avenues for Youth, Salvation Army, Blanchet House and many others, they would tell you that they count on businesses and individual business people for a large share of their charitable gifts, their volunteers and their board leadership. Just last week, several leading Portland business executives rang bells on downtown street corners in an effort to raise money for the Salvation Army programs.

Additionally, the downtown Clean & Safe program pays almost $2 million per year for security in the 213-block BID district, which aids in protecting our more vulnerable populations, and we hire previously homeless people for our street cleaning programs, in an remarkable partnership we have had with Central City Concern for almost a decade. The value of that cleaning program is about $1.5 million per year. In another program this year, we are working with Transitions Project to fund outreach to chronic panhandlers to learn more about them and to get some off the street and into services. It is a long process, but we have helped more than half a dozen individuals find supportive services in the last six months.

Supporting vulnerable populations definitely is an effort that should involve all of the community, but saying the answer is having the business community “step up” with funds to build shelters fails to recognize the city’s obligation. The businesses of Portland pay considerable taxes and fees to support local services, in addition to generous and consistent support of charitable programs. While we have had considerable success with the 10-year-plan, the fact that we still have populations on the streets tell us that it may be time to rethink how the city delivers its programs and services. We do not think an illegal camp is now, or ever has been, an appropriate answer.

Lastly, I hope you will join me in reaching out to and supporting businesses that have been adversely impacted by the location of Right to Dream Too at the entrance of Old Town/Chinatown. Last week, we held the Alliance staff holiday party at Alexis after reading about the struggles that small business has faced. We need to recognize there are impacts, and frequently small businesses bear the biggest burden of those impacts.

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