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Standing Up to the Man

Homeless Unite Against Mayor's Sit-Lie Law

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Just days after the first city council vote on the mayor's new sit-lie ordinance, homeless advocates are already mobilizing to establish an independent complaint process for people who have been mistreated under the new ruling.

Street Roots Director Israel Bayer says he is working with other downtown activist groups, like Sisters of the Road, on a complaint system that will "let people at the city know the complaints that we've been hearing."

Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) officers—downtown's rent-a-cops who have no public oversight and are paid for by the Portland Business Alliance ["Trust Me, I'm a Rent-a-Cop," Feature, May 3]—will be doing most of the sit-lie enforcement, asking the homeless to move along. Bayer wants to gather and document complaints from the homeless about their treatment at the hands of PPI and submit them to city hall, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), and the Independent Police Review.

The ordinance passed its first vote at city council last Wednesday, May 2, by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Randy Leonard the only objector, raising concerns that the law could impede people's right to free speech. The council was expected to pass the ordinance in a second vote slated for Wednesday, May 9.

The law—technically called the Sidewalk Obstructions Ordinance—makes it illegal for one or two people to sit or lie on the sidewalk. Three people sitting together can legally claim to be engaged in a First Amendment activity, like a protest. Leonard said he had a "fundamental concern" over that part of the ordinance, and he also cited concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union that the ordinance goes too far.

Commissioner Erik Sten, council's leading homelessness advocate, voted in favor of the ordinance, but stressed he now wants to use $350,000 from the mayor's office—money that's attached to the ordinance—to locate a permanent day-access center in downtown Portland, "long before the end of this year."

Sten noted the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) group failed to locate temporary day-access services for 150 people before the ordinance passed, as it had originally promised. Since the group only managed to secure services for between 40 and 60 people at the Julia West House, the SAFE oversight group should now dedicate its energy to locating a permanent day-access center downtown.

"I would like to remind people that the idea [of a day-access center ] was completely opposed by lots of downtown constituencies not too long ago," Sten said, referring implicitly to the PBA, widely viewed as the driving force behind the sit-lie law.

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