Activists deliver 2,000 signatures protesting city’s ‘abhorrent laws’
By Joanne Zuhl
Advocates for people on the streets filled City Council Chambers June 11, unfurling nearly 2,000 postcards signed by residents calling for the repeal of the city’s sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances. The campaign to repeal the laws was organized by Sisters of the Road and Street roots. Patrick Nolen, community organizer with Sisters, addressed the council, including new commissioner Nick Fish, and called for the city to end what he called "these abhorrent laws."
The so-called sit-lie law draws its name from barring people from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The camping ordinance prohibits people from sleeping outdoors on public property.
"Between these two laws, sit-lie and anti-camping, it is effectively illegal to be homeless in Portland’s downtown core," Nolen told the council. "The sit-lie law has been in effect since August 2007: Not once has a person who was not homeless been cited. Not once."
Nolen said the city’s own leadership admits that the city lacks enough low-income housing units and shelter beds to house everyone who is homeless in Portland, but persists in punishing people for "meeting basic needs: sleep and rest."
Sisters of the Road recently withdrew it’s membership from the Street Access for Everyone, or SAFE oversight committee, citing the continued enforcement of the sit-lie law, which the original SAFE committee recommended. The committee was established to address street disorders, such as aggressive panhandling, public intoxication and low-level crimes. In the process it re-instated a sit-lie ban, with the promise of establishing a day access center for people on the streets, and installing benches and bathrooms. Nolen, along with Sisters Associate Director Michael Buonocore resigned from the committee in May, saying the city has failed to deliver on those promises, while continuing to enforce the sit-lie law, which they say, targets homeless people. Buonocore said at the time that Sisters would like to have the committee vote to recommend a repeal of the law, but that there were not enough votes to support such a motion.
Soon after Sisters resignation, it partnered with Street Roots to launch the postcard campaign.
"These postcards come from all over, business owners, people living without housing, local politicians and citizens from every economic background,” Nolen said. “Each person that took the time to write is a murmur, a part of a louder voice, a louder voice demanding our rights."
Nolen said that similar laws are being challenged all along the West Coast.
"Each city, whether it is Fresno, Seattle, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, are all fighting to repeal laws that criminalize people for doing nothing more than trying to exist. Portland has a chance to be at the forefront of this march towards civil rights for all, because Portland belongs to all of us."
The Council made no comments on the presentation.
“We were amazed when doing outreach what a broad base of neighborhood activists, business owners and residents agreed with the idea that the sit-lie law and camping ordinance are human rights violations because they target a specific population in our society,” said Street Roots Director Israel Bayer.