Friday, June 27, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Director's Desk from Street Roots

Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road delivered more than 2,000 postcards to City Hall last week asking that the council suspend the camping and sit-lie ordinances.

It’s clear that Portlanders care about the civil rights of individuals experiencing homelessness. It’s unclear if Portland can develop any out-of-the-box methods as an alternative to the criminalization of people sleeping without shelter.

A supporter recently asked Street Roots why we continue to advocate for the abolishment of the camping and sidewalk laws when it’s clear City Hall is not moving on the issue.

Beyond being the No. 1 issue, short of housing itself, that our community has identified over the years, our response was that many of the laws that have unfairly stripped the rights of groups of individuals throughout our history have been met with blind resistance by bureaucracies for decades, sometimes centuries at a time. Often times those laws were perpetuated and kept in place due to public unrest driven by misconceptions, newspaper editorial boards and powerful economic and business interests that believed things like Jim Crow and anti-Okie laws were necessary to keep order and in the best interest of the general public.

Individuals living without homes in America are human beings and have every much of a right to exist in a community as anyone else, especially considering that law enforcement methods are costly and continue to contribute to a person’s criminal history, which is one of the biggest barriers in overcoming homelessness. It’s clear to that the camping and sidewalk laws target people on the streets, and until these laws are taken off the books we must continue the fight.

With your help, Street Roots met its spring goal of raising $20,000. We can’t thank you enough. Your support is going to empower vendors with the supplies and environment needed to be successful, while helping to publish a professional street paper that supports vendors and informs the community on a range of social justice issues.

We also received grants in May from Larson Legacy, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Autzen Foundation, Charis Fund, the McKenzie River Gathering and the Rose L. Tucker Foundation.

The funding from these great foundations is going to a range of different projects, including improving the Rose City Resources, organizing and giving vendors voice and to help fund specific pages in the newspaper. Big thanks to all of the foundations that support Street Roots. We look forward to working with all of our supporters over the next year to give voice, provide economic opportunities and deliver you a professional street newspaper.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sisters Of The Road & Street Roots deliver postcards asking for the repeal of the camping and sit-lie lie ordinances

Activists deliver 2,000 signatures protesting city’s ‘abhorrent laws’
By Joanne Zuhl
Staff writer

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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Interview with the late, great Utah Phillips

Street Roots was sad to hear that the great folk singer and rebel rouser Utah Phillips died this past weekend. He passed away peacefully at his home in Nevada City, California on May 23. He was 73 years old.

Back in January of 2004 Israel Bayer of Street Roots had the chance to interview Utah Phillips before one of the many Winterfolk Benefit Concerts he headlined for Sisters Of The Road. Here's the interview titled, "The altered state of Utah Phillips."

He has been likened to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but probably the best compliment you can give Utah Phillips is that, search high and low, you will find no better friend of the working man and woman.

And that’s a title that would do Phillips proud, because while he may not be the hardest workingman in show business, Phillips knows hard work like few others in show business. He is the radical son of labor organizers, a product of the union movement and a lyrical visionary for everyone who still holds hope for workers rights and civil liberties.

By the time Phillips was a teen-ager, he was riding the rails, bumming with tramps and soaking in every drop of life on the road. He taught himself to play the ukulele and guitar and began writing songs about the hobo life while he worked odd jobs. Those days and his constant keen observations of labor in the United States continue to fuel his musical storytelling today.

As a soldier in Korea, Phillips decided that nonviolence was the only sane way to live. He founded the Poor People’s Party in Utah, ran for the U.S. Senate on the Peace & Freedom ticket, and routinely runs as a presidential candidate on the Sloth & Indolence ticket.

Activist, musician, politician, rabble rouser and storyteller, Utah Phillips wears many hats. We caught up with him this month to talk about his life and music.

Street Roots: How did you get connected with Sisters of the Road?

Utah Phillips: I would come down and sing for Mike Barns and raise money for the (Portland) Alliance. Sister’s was providing the food for one of these events and I got curious about that. Around the same time, I got a phone call that Dorothy Day from the Catholic Workers had passed away. They rescued me from the streets, you know. I was feeling pretty depressed, so I went down to Sisters to get some lunch. At the time, Genny (Nelson) was working behind the counter there. There were very few people there. I sat and watched Genny. I watched the way she was working with the people and saw that the work Dorothy was doing was getting passed along. That was my first experience.

I was on the road a great deal at the time, and Genny lived in a variety of houses, and she would always have a place for me to stay. I have seen Sisters grow and grow and I watched Genny grow and grow. Genny is one of the most courageous people to be doing what she does with an ailing illness. Since I’ve had this diagnosed congestive heart failure, which means I can’t tour anymore, it’s hard to stay active. I think Genny is an example of people who can be very productive with an ailing illness.

Street Roots: What’s so unique about Sisters that has kept you coming back?

Utah Phillips: I guess first of all, the Catholic Workers philosophy that goes along with Sisters. That movement was started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin spreading the social message of the Catholic Church that there is a whole other way of practicing Christianity that has nothing to do with fame and power and greed. Christians spend a lot of time examining the birth and death of Christ, you know, but very little practicing the example of his life. The Catholic Workers movement has meant to change this.

Dorothy went out on the skids up in New York City and opened houses of hospitality. Going back to the primitive church, Dorothy and Peter pushed the idea of people having Christ rooms where people who would be down and out on their luck could go. The Catholic Workers houses served meals to people and people would bed down if they had enough room for people to sleep. The houses are not missions and they don’t serve clients, everyone was a friend and a guest, that’s why at Sisters you have table service. You’re working with people and their lives and at Sisters they are guests.

Catholic Workers are pacifists. When I got back from Korea where I was a soldier, I acted out a lot with some pretty violent behavior. They taught me how to be a pacifist and it saved my life. They are also anarchists; they take nothing from the state and give nothing to the state. They live in volunteer poverty.

Again, I’m not a Christian, but the Catholic Workers are people I would go to the wall with.

See, Dorothy Day and other Catholic Workers, in the time of air raids, do you remember the air raids? I guess you wouldn’t. It was in the time of McCarthyism. It was against the law not to go to the air raid shelters. Shelter sirens would go off and when you heard the sirens you would have to go to the shelters. If you were on the streets you could be arrested. Well, Dorothy Day and her people would be down there in Times Square marching down the middle of the streets with hundreds of people when the sirens would go off, holding signs denouncing the nuclear buildup happening in the country. First it was hundreds of people marching, then thousands and finally the city said the hell with it. Direct action gets the goods.

See, life on the streets is very rough, you know. There are mean people out there who feel threatened and up against it all and act out violently, and at Sisters you can’t do that. Maybe it takes three or four visits at Sisters for someone to realize that ‘I don’t need this violence in my life, this is a peaceful place and I can put all that aside.’ Eventually, people like that become managers and activists and so on. General personalism works, you know. It may help out your trip that has been drilled into you by your bosses and drill instructors and peers, you know. You can walk away from it and lay it all down. This is what the Catholic Workers did for me and that’s what Sisters is doing for others.

Street Roots: It’s estimated that more than 500,000 veterans experience homeless—ness in this country every year. Do you think there is a connection between homelessness and the military?

Utah Phillips: I heard about the person who died on the streets up there shortly after I visited Santa Barbara. People on the beach there had put up crosses representing every soldier who had been killed in Iraq. I could see the connections between those soldiers and those who die on the streets. Those crosses represent sacrifice, you know, and there’s a world of difference between sacrificing your life and being sacrificed. Those people who die on the streets and on the battlefield died on the altar of human greed. One thing the rich benefiting off of these people being sacrificed, whether on the battlefield or on the streets or in a prison, have to understand is that the harvest of greed in the people is not wealth, but rage. I don’t want to see it all explode because I’m a pacifist, but the rich better have a care and better watch out. I hate to say that, I know there’s a better way, but the rich, year after year, are harvesting so much rage in the people in this country and all around the world.

Street Roots: How do you think being a hobo in the 21st century is different than the past?

Utah Phillips: (Laughter) A hobo is a wandering worker. At the end of the Civil War, when agriculture in the South had collapsed, workers traveled west, hoeing corn from one field to the next. They called themselves the hoe boys or, in vernacular,“hobos.” A hobo is somebody who works hard but doesn’t stay in the same place, you know. A tramp is different, a tramp is someone who doesn’t want to work for a boss or structure in their lives, like Frying Pan Jack said, a tramp is anyone who cooks out. If you gave him a ticket for the Salvation Army, he wouldn’t use it. A tramp will scavenge and wander and, of course, they say a bum is someone who drinks and wanders.

Used to be, there was always work for wandering people. In the past, you could be a wanderer and find work in a restaurant or on a loading dock or in a stable or on a farm or something. Now there are less ways for poor people to make it through the world, you know. There are fewer skid rows. Skid rows were great melting pots where all the people who had been driven ganged up where there was cheap food, tent cities and flophouses for people to go. Most of these melting pots have long since been torn out. Many times torn out without thought of where poor people were going to go. Where are people going to go?

Street Roots: Street newspapers are popping up all over the country. How important is it for people living in poverty to have their own independent media sources?

I think it’s important for everyone in the world to have an independent press. I think what you all got going on is a powerful, powerful movement. As a kid, I used to do that. You would get the newspapers, then you would sell them on the streets and then you would pay back and get a nickel for the paper.

At one time in Butte, Mont., the street vendors were getting paid less than the people who were delivering them, so they struck and created a newspaper union with the Wobblies (International Workers of the World). You guys have got it all figured out, you know, all figured out.

It’s going to have to come from the bottom up. If I take what’s going on in the media from the top down I get depressed. It’s from the world to the city to the block — we look at it from the top down when we watch CNN or Fox News. But if I walk out my door I see too many people working hard and doing good things to become a pessimist.

Street Roots: Over the years, how important is it for people living in poverty to have creative expression in their lives, like poetry, music and art?

Utah Phillips: All the great social movements within memory, starting with the labor movements and the civil rights movement, have all been singing movements. It’s terribly important to build solidarity. To take a comprehensive idea and then boil it down to a way people can understand it is very important.

It’s very important for poor people to have a place to have poetry workshops and halls for people to read in, or to have places for people to work with clay or create art and to have places to exhibit their art. It’s all desperately important for poor people to have ways to express themselves, you know.

Street Roots: What do you think of the current administration?

Utah Phillips: What kind of language does your paper print?

Street Roots: Well, we don’t censor anything.

Utah Phillips: In that case, they’re a bunch of brain-dead assholes. What we are looking at is corporate fascism. These people at the top of the pyramid have no experience in democracy. They’ve spent their lives in anti-democratic organizations and they’re bringing that thinking to government. Fascism grew in Germany, when a lot of people stood around and didn’t do anything. People went out to clubs, cabarets, and movies instead of doing anything, and after the war was over, the young people would ask their grandparents, ‘Why didn’t you do anything?’ We are in the beginning, you know, and we have to do something now. I don’t want my grandkids coming to me and asking why didn’t you do anything.

Street Roots: What do you think as poor and working people we need to do about it?

Utah Phillips: The major thing that needs to happen is the rebuilding of the labor movement. At a grassroots level it has proven itself decade after decade. The labor movement, through rut hog bottom-up organizing, brought us the eight-hour workday, workman’s compensation, minimum wage, and mining and safety laws.

When I was a kid, I was born in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, that was built by the United Auto Workers Union. National health care wasn’t an issue, it was a bargaining issue, and getting a good contract meant building hospitals and entire villages. The unions had enormous power. That’s why it was so vigorously attacked. We need millions of workers to get back to the bargaining table at the point of production. We need to rebuild the whole thing as a direct action movement.

Millions of workers need to walk away from the political system and get back to organizing in the workplace.

The best way to rebuild at a local level is to rebuild our own lives. The best way to rebuild at a national level is to rebuild democracy were we live and work, between us and our workmates, between us and our children, between us and our lovers, because if we can’t build it there in our own lives, the biggest ballot box in the world won’t give it to us.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The mice who roared. New Street Roots out tomorrow!

In many ways Street Roots has remained rather quiet on the protests in front of City Hall. While most newspapers, TV and radio stations in Portland covered the homeless protests – Street Roots stepped back – one because of our publication schedule, two, we have a small staff working with individuals on the streets throughout Portland.

Instead of trying to report every single detail, while missing the bigger picture, we relied on our experience, relationships, and knowledge of the homeless front and the politics surrounding the camp and homelessness in Portland.

Street Roots has two special editions every year, the first of which was the “Drug Issue” in early April. While the newspaper tomorrow is not a special edition, it might as well be. Since the protest began we’ve had three reporters on the scene, and at least five vendors sleeping out in front of City Hall.

The headline of the new Street Roots is entitled, “The mice who roared.” The newspaper includes a photo package, two in-depth news stories on the lives of the people protesting, the emotions involved and how exactly we came to this point, and what is being done behind the scenes. We’ve also included a detailed eight-year timeline of direct actions, protests, legal decisions, and policy surrounding the camping and sit-lie ordinances along with commentary from protesters and a cost analysis of shelters vs. permanent housing.

We also have an in-depth interview with John Verdi with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and commentary on Fusion Centers. You may be surprised at just who is spying on you.

And of course, we have street art, poetry and two vendor profiles of individuals selling the newspaper. Pick up a copy tomorrow from a local neighborhood vendor. One-dollar goes a long way, and you get something great in return.

Here’s a peak into the newspaper’s take on what’s going down.

City needs back-up long term plan

Street Roots fully supports the idea of housing first – the idea that we as a community can engage individuals on the streets with low-income housing.

Portland is badly in need of leadership that will guide our city to the resources needed for people on the streets to thrive through a broad approach that includes economic development (micro-enterprising), outreach and engagement efforts through non-law enforcement and harm reduction models, and of course, housing itself.

The protesters in front of City Hall demanding an end to the camping and sit-lie ordinances have thrown a wrench into a larger bureaucratic battle that’s been playing out behind the scenes for years.

The city’s response to what many bureaucrats say are unreasonable demands (repealing the camping and sit-lie ordinances) have been to open 102 emergency shelter beds, 90 for men and 12 for women. The problem is that one of the goals of the 10-year plan to end homelessness was to get away from sheltering individuals and to providing permanent supportive housing first.

The reason for this is twofold: First, shelters are more expensive to run and don’t wield the results of the housing first model. Secondly, when shelters beds don’t fill up, the city can enforce the city’s camping ordinance. State law requires law enforcement not to enforce the ordinance if shelters are full.

Like it or not, many individuals experiencing homelessness are not going to sleep in a shelter, period. There are also people living with animals; couples, and families that simply will not be split up due to archaic shelter guidelines. And yes, there are drug addicts. Individuals dealing with an addiction are human beings, and using law enforcement to force individuals into the criminal justice system, and not have the same access to shelters as the broader population, is inhumane, costly, and backwards.

Street Roots has been covering camp sweeps, the camping ordinance and other criminalization efforts, along with innovative solutions to ending homelessness since our inception. On the ground level, we’ve consistently been told by our peers, vendors and other people on the streets that the number one issue beyond finding housing is law enforcement moving individuals from one place to another, time and again, with no alternative.

The people in front of City Hall have organized themselves. Their leadership is strictly from the streets. For better or worse, they’ve created community, and at the end of the day, tried to make the world a better place for themselves and people just like them.

We are all on the same side in this fight — local businesses, community organizations, City Hall, advocates, social services, and the people affected the most. It’s clear that there are not enough resources. But we can’t lose our focus on being able to couple short-term, out-of-the-box thinking with a housing first model that has proven successful. We can’t be distracted into thinking shelter beds are a satisfactory means to end the criminalization of the homeless or to house people. Portland’s leaders need to reinforce long-term solutions to truly make a difference.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Homeless rise up on the streets to fight anti-camping and sit-lie ordinance

Individuals experiencing homelessness and activists have been camping on City Hall for nearly three-weeks. The group is calling itself the Homeless Liberation Front.
  • Portland Homeless Liberation Front

  • The group has ranged from 10 to 70 individuals who have been sleeping on the sidewalk in front of City Hall demanding an end to the anti-camping and sit-lie ordinances. The camping ordinance is used to clear camps out throughout Portland, while the sit-lie ordinance criminalizes sitting or lying on a public sidewalk from 7AM to 7PM.

    In late April, a group of individuals were swept from under the Burnside and Morrison bridges in downtown Portland. The group marched to City Hall in the dead on night in defiance of the ordinances.

    On Monday, May 5, four individuals from the camp met personally with the Mayor. Protestors demanded an end to the ordinances. The mayor declined. No resolution was reached.

    The city has opened more than 100 emergency shelter beds until June in response to the protestors. Both individuals on the streets and homeless advocates say that's not enough.

    On Saturday, May 10, seven individuals were arrested – six for interfering with a police officer and one for resisting arrest.

    Patrick Nolan, community organizer with Sisters Of The Road caught the arrests on film.

    Shortly after the arrests an illegal camping notice was posted in front of City Hall, giving protesters until Tuesday, May 13, to clear the area or risk arrest.

    On Sunday, May 11, the group formally signed a letter asking the Mayor to meet again this week.

    More to come.

    Note: Street Roots has been following the protests and is working on an in-depth news story for the Friday, May 16, edition. The newspaper also came out against the camping ordinance on May 5, asking City Hall to “suspend the camping ordinance in designated regions of the City of Portland until all nine-action steps have been implemented, and the 10-year plan to end homelessness is complete. 

Street Roots believes it is cruel and unusual punishment to continue to criminalize individuals experiencing homelessness from sleeping on public property when the City of Portland can’t offer any real, concrete solutions to the crisis until a projected 2015.”

    Posted by Israel Bayer

    Photo by Kristina Wright

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box

    Join Dignity Village and Kwamba Productions along with Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road tomorrow for a night of theater, film, art and education.

    At the event, Kwamba and Dignity Village will screen a portion of the Tent Cities Toolkit interactive movie in which Dignity Villagers, Portland¹s former commissioner EriK Sten, Street Roots Israel Bayer, JOIN’s Marc Jolin, and many others are featured.

    Portland's street newspaper Streets Roots, Sisters of the Road, among others, will open the event with exhibits from local street artists and photographers. The event will also premiere the 15-minute play "Road to Dignity," written and performed by Dignity Villagers, and directed by Deborah Rodney and Phyllis Jones.

    The play is a lighthearted sketch of a typical day at Dignity Village, narrated by Gizmo, one of the Village cats. The play breaks stereotypes of why people are homeless. It gets down to the real nitty-gritty of who we are as people, neighbors, and as members in the community.

    The event will close with an open-mic hour of music and poetry from the audience and broader community. If you would like to participate in the open-mic, please bring your instrument (mics are provided) and join the fun!

    When: Thursday, May 8, from 6:30 ­ 9:00 PM (Doors open at 6PM)
    Where: Hollywood Theatre (4122 SE Sandy Blvd, Portland)

    Admission is free at the door!

    Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box is sponsored in part by Regional Arts and Culture Council and will premiere local art, photography, a theatrical play, and a film.

    This is a collaborative project between Dignity Village ( and Kwamba Productions (, who are long-time partners in producing outreach materials for ending homelessness through alternative housing communities.