Portland’s homelessness crisis hit a fevered pitch Wednesday as a new coalition sued the city and Mayor Charlie Hales, calling Hales’ pro-camping policy an illegal abuse of power because the City Council never signed off. Full story at the Oregonian
… If successful, the lawsuit would force the City Council to officially greenlight Hales’ plan or revoke it in favor of a compromise that includes public participation and stricter enforcement of existing anti-camping laws
… The lawsuit is a remarkable event in the city’s checkered history dealing with homelessness. In the past, civil-rights advocates have successfully sued Portland over unconstitutional sidewalk rules and anti-camping laws that didn’t account for the belongings of homeless Portlanders.
But the enforcement pendulum began swinging last year when the City Council approved a housing emergency and camping became more prevalent. In December and January, police responded to two confirmed stabbings at homeless camps and last month a homeless man was shot at a Southeast Portland camp near a preschool.
We first became aware of Ann Sanderson when she successfullyled the fight against the failed street fee and we were pleased to hear that Ann was mounting a serious challenge to Amanda Fritz for her seat on city council. Recently we sat down with Ann to find out more about her campaign, her perspectives on Portland politics, and why she prefers “West Wing” to “House of Cards.”
Q: Why are you running for council?
Ann:I got involved in the political process a couple of years ago over the Street Fee. During that time I discovered a couple of things: One, that city government has a much bigger impact on our day to day lives that we think, and two, that this particular city council says they listen but doesn’t really hear us. This results in an agenda that reflects their own insular thinking and policies that don’t work for anyone.
During the fight against the Street Fee, we fought City Hall on behalf of small businesses and low income residents and we won. I want to be the voice of all the people of Portland on the issues that matter to them most, and make sure that their voices are heard. But the simple answer to why I’m running? I love Portland and want to help keep it the best place to live in the world.
Q: You led the fight against the Street Fee. Why aren’t you challenging Steve Novick?
Ann:There are so many issues facing Portland, and how we fund our critical street maintenance is just one of them. If I had run against Novick, the conversation would have likely been focused on that single issue. While Commissioner Novick should be made to defend his record on the failed Street Fee, I have already fought that battle and won. I believe I can be more effective by bringing some new ideas and common sense to the wide range of challenges facing Portland, not just this one issue, and that in order to implement them, we need three new people on council with fresh ideas.
Q: Last summer the North Park Blocks was overrun with illegal activity – drug dealing, public use of alcohol, destruction of property, intimidating panhandling, urination/defecation, prostitution and illegal sexual activity. Mayor Hales and Parks Commissioner Fritz ignored the problem until we started posting “park porn” photos. How would you have responded to that illegal activity?
Ann: We have a humanitarian crisis in our city and we need to address it. Every person on the streets is deserving of our compassion and help, and laws must be enforced for everyone’s safety. We cannot effectively deliver services and aid to people living on the streets if we don’t have a safe environment, and I take public safety very seriously. Other cities face similar problems in their urban cores, and with strong leadership and a collaborative approach, we can find new ideas and fresh thinking without the insular view of the current city hall.
Q: The North Park Blocks folks are not NIMBYs. We live and work among lots of people living in the neighborhood’s many transitional housing facilities. How can the city find a workable balance between compassion for the truly needy and maintaining safe and orderly public spaces for everyone to enjoy?
Ann: First we need to understand it’s not an either/or. The majority of homeless people are not engaged in criminal activity, but those who do are having a huge impact on the public’s ability to remain compassionate to the issue as a whole. We need to work hard to make sure that everyone who is houseless is found stable, permanent housing in the long term and safe transitional shelter in the short term. At no point is being houseless a free pass from obeying the law. It makes it unsafe for both the neighborhood and for the many more homeless who are struggling to get off the streets.
Q: Mayor Hales has declared “Safe Sleep Guidelines” that allow overnight camping on sidewalks. Your thoughts on that initiative?
Ann: Every day, in all parts of Portland, I see the homeless wrapped in blankets and huddled in doorways or pitching tents in public right of ways, and I am ashamed of my city. We are one of the most progressive, liberal, liveable cities in the country and we can’t do better than letting our fellow human beings sleep on the street? Sanctioning what is already happening, whether it be homeless camps or sleeping in sidewalks, is not real policy — it’s just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything. We can do better and we must do better.
Ann: First, I don’t agree with the concept of “homeless camp.” There are permitted camps now and the city isn’t even providing adequate basic sanitation services to them. How can we think that institutionalizing 100 more of those is going to solve the problem? I do believe that every neighborhood is full of concerned, compassionate people who want to help. I’ve seen in my own neighborhood reach out to the homeless with compassion and creative problem solving. Engaging each neighborhood in the process of finding a solution that fits the neighborhood would be a great first step.
Q: How would you differentiate yourself from Amanda Fritz in terms of leadership style?
Ann: I am big on collaboration, get input from every side, and focus on win-win solutions. I don’t think you’ve solved something until everyone feels like they can own and implement the plan. Amanda Fritz cares deeply about people, but if you look at her record, most of her accomplishments on council focus on benefits to small groups, specifically city employees. A council member must be a leader for all Portlanders, as well as a policy-maker and a good manager of the people’s money.
Q: Our group came together in response to City Hall’s failure to maintain safety and order in our park. But we realize there are many other critical issues the city faces. What’s at the top of your list?
Ann: We’ve talked about homelessness and public safety. As a small business owner, the economy is always on my mind. The economic landscape is changing and we there will be some challenges incorporating new technologies and the sharing economy into our existing economic framework.
Our current city council handled AirBnB and Uber’s arrival in Portland badly, and continues to show that they do not understand the new economy. The nature of work is changing for many people and rather than looking back to a bygone era for old fashioned answers, we need fresh, innovative ideas to make the future work for all of us.
Additionally, whether in charge of parks, police, transportation, or 911, every city council member must also be a good manager. Inefficient policies, ineffective leadership, and mismanaged budgets are holding Portland back. We’ve lost a lot of public trust because of our poor management of our tax dollars. Having run a successful small business, I can manage the bureaus efficiently and within budget while focusing on the priorities that will make Portland work for everyone.
Q: Speaking of the police, the city has asked every bureau (including Police) to cut 5% – to raise funds for the homeless this year. What is your position on Police funding? What would you do to ensure the Police are properly staffed to deal crime and safety issues in Portland?
Ann: I have never understood across the board cuts. It assumes that all spending is created equally. While we can love all the extras that local government pays for that make our city great and wish that there was enough money for everything, leaders must identify priorities and fund those first. We have had budget surpluses for the past couple of years that could go a long way to funding basic services. Police, fire, 911, basic road maintenance should all be at the top of the list.
I recently spoke to some police officers who indicated that part of the problem is a bottleneck in getting new officers hired and trained. The recruits were qualified and available, but there weren’t enough HR staff to do the screenings. Identifying pinch points like these and making sure that they get taken care of could go a long way to making our budget dollars more effective.
Q: As you know, Portland is currently undergoing a massive growth spurt. We are well on our way to being a world renown city. What specifically would you do differently as a Council seat member – to position Portland for growth and prosperity, while also protecting the uniqueness of Portland that we have all come to love.
Ann: As I go to different parts of the city to listen to the concerns of the people who live here, I am struck by the level of frustrations we all seem to be feeling about direction. The current council and the previous administration seemed to take a “one size fits all” approach. I’ve spent most of my life in Portland and always believed that it was our diverse neighborhoods that made us great. Developing and strengthening programs that support existing businesses and neighborhoods will allow us to grow without losing the flavor of what exists now. We have those pieces in place, but they are often lost in drive to grow Portland quickly.
Extra credit – If you weren’t busy with the campaign, what would you be binge watching on Netflix?
Ann: Now that I’m running for office, I realized that you are either “West Wing” or “House of Cards.” If I could, I’d sit down and binge watch “West Wing” to remind myself that you can do the right thing and be a politician, too.
I know that some other residents of my building (The North Park Lofts at 300 NW 8th Ave.) have written complaining about the Bolt Bus “stop” (read: depot) that has been moved from SW Salmon St. to NW Everett St. at 8th Ave. I won’t add to the litany of complaints but suffice it to say that the noise pollution, traffic congestion, illegal parking, litter, etc. from this has had a materially negative impact on the livability of our homes. And most likely the property values as well.
I met with Joe Darden, Senior Operations Manager of Bolt Bus, yesterday to get their side of the story and to share our concerns with him. I met him at the Greyhound bus terminal on NW 6th Ave. and it was evident immediately why he would want to use a city street as a depot rather than the modern facility they own; a facility with seating, bathrooms, concessions, garbage receptacles, etc. that was completely deserted and in lockdown at 2pm. Outside were probably 25-30 presumably homeless people who had taken over the sidewalk and mall surrounding the terminal. I am a 6’1”, 195lb. man and it was very uncomfortable for me to walk the length of the terminal. I was twice asked if I was “looking” and one man glared and spit at me. I cannot imagine a woman, an elderly person, a family, or anyone really who would feel safe going near the terminal.
Joe is a very reasonable man who was sympathetic to our concerns. He agreed to implement a no-idling policy which, although less than 24 hours in effect, has already made a big difference in the noise. I didn’t even bother asking him the question why Bolt would use a city street for a depot, with all the attendant issues that creates, because it was painfully obvious that the terminal has been rendered virtually unusable. His frustration with the situation was palpable, and as someone who endured the similar and horrible situation on the North Park Blocks last summer, I shared his frustration.
When will this City Council do something concrete and meaningful about this? This is not a Bolt Bus problem, it’s a city-wide livability problem. The “temporary” moratorium on enforcing the no-camping ordinance is only going to make matters worse. Perhaps we could take a “temporary” time-out from creating bike lanes, couplets, and extending the Streetcar and Max lines to seriously address this. If the city’s scarce financial resources could be redirected to create one or two permanent camps/shelters with concentrated services and drop-off/triage centers for the police, then maybe the city could find the spine to enforce our laws and make the city inhabitable for tax-paying residents. The PBA and downtown business owners would no doubt enthusiastically support this and possibly contribute financially. Even groups like Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International might be willing to offer help in addressing what amounts to a humanitarian crisis in their own backyard.
I know that homelessness is not a crime, and my heart goes out to those who are in that condition through no fault of their own, but what has happened to the once-fair city I grew up in and have lived in for nearly 60 years is a crime. Doing nothing is not compassion and only enables, nay exacerbates, a tragic problem for all of us. Thank you for listening and I look forward to your response.
We first saw this prank sign in Jameson Park last week. Turns out it wasn’t far off message from Mayor Hales’ top-down experiment in homeless camps.
“There are just certain times when the city, faced with an emergency, … has to just buckle down, put their heads down, create something and just try it.” ~ Josh Alpert, Chief of Staff to Mayor Hales. KGW
No, Mr. Alpert is not talking about a unexpected natural disaster. Portland homelessness is a chronic problem. And the city’s inability to insure safe and livable streets has been in the news at least since our blog embarrassed City Hall last summer with park porn photos.
We attended yesterday’s City Council public work session to hear about Portland’s new four-point plan to deal with homelessness in Portland (photo below – that’s right, Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzmanwas not in attendance).
The session featured testimony from Portland Police, a few city officials and homeless advocates. No opportunity for votes, public comment or input from neighborhood groups or businesses that will be impacted. As Mr. Alpert said, “… just buckle down, create something and then go try it.”
The four point plan looks something like this – What could possibly go wrong?
Overnight sleeping on city sidewalks will be allowed, provided that homeless Portlanders use only a sleeping bag and tarp, do not block the sidewalk, and do not exceed six sleepers in one location. Tents are not allowed on sidewalks.
But tents will be allowed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. in certain locations, such as city-owned property that is not a sidewalk. The city plans to release examples of property where overnight-only camping would be allowed.
The guidelines don’t apply to parks, although the Portland Parks Bureau generally hasn’t gone out of its way to fight off overnight tent camping.
“No one should have a tent up in this city all day,” Alpert said.
2. Organized camping system
Alpert hopes to establish several — perhaps 10 — city-sanctioned campsites that must be linked to a nonprofit service provider.
Campers wouldn’t necessarily sleep in tents. Instead, the city may order a “couple hundred” disaster-relief pods that homeless Portlanders could sleep in, Alpert said. Later, those pods could be reused by the city in the event of a wide-scale disaster.
The locations of such campsites would be established with the help of neighborhood associations, Alpert.”It’ll be temporary,” Alpert said of the campsites.
3. Organized car/RV system
Similar to the camping system, the city would designate property where homeless Portlanders could legally camp in cars or RVs. Church parking lots are an obvious choice, Alpert said. Any site would require city approval and would need to be affiliated with a nonprofit service provider.
4. More temporary shelter space
Alpert said the city is looking at three or four locations in the hopes of securing more temporary shelter space. He wasn’t ready to speculate how many beds could be added to the system or when they’d be ready.
Remedy Wine Bar featured huge windows that overlooked the North Park Blocks. A park-side location should be an asset to a gracious wine bar. But not when it’s adjacent to a space that city neglect has turned into a de facto homeless encampment.
Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz lacks an appreciation for public perceptions of safe and livable spaces. In a KGW interview she stated “Every neighborhood in Portland will be asked to find a spot to put a homeless camp.”
We wonder what’s ahead for Portland in 2016.
Pearl District Wine Bar Leaving Neighborhood Because of Homeless People From Willamette Week 1/20/2016 by Matthew Korfhage
Pearl District wine bar Remedy, at the edge of the North Park Blocks on Broadway and Everett, is closing after three years.
Owner Michael Madigan says the problem is the neighbors.
Specifically, he believes that city sweeps of camps on the east side last June caused the houseless population to explode near his wine bar, and that the city has made a “conscious decision” not to solve the crime and drug use he says had become a problem in his neighborhood.
“One day last June when the city swept the inner Southeast,” he says, “Everybody showed up on the North Park Blocks. It was literally overnight.”
The city of Portland conducted a series of sweeps of east-side encampments beginning in May 2015.
“I counted 42 people between Everett and Flanders,” says Madigan, who is also owner of KitchenCru commissary space, CorksCru wine shop, and Bowery Bagels. “It had an immediate impact.”
Madigan says his business was down this summer by a significant margin year-over-year, after gains in the springtime.
He says that the problem was the crime he and his employees consistently observed near his wine bar, a second story space looking out on the park blocks that serves $15 wine flights, along with kale Caesar salad, and cheese and charcuterie plates including a $35 five-charcuterie platter.
Madigan says area hotels stopped sending customers to his neighborhood, and that the city was ineffectual in stopping drug use nearby, even when the city parked a police van outside the area. Remedy was named after a hundred-year-old pharmacy that once occupied the building.
“It was like the an episode of The Wire,” Madigan says of the North Park Blocks area. “As soon as the cops left, the drugs and the crime showed up again.”
He also says that people frequently urinated in the stairs that lead up to his wine bar.
“Every day those stairs are used as a latrine. There are public restrooms two blocks,” he says. “I remember asking people why. Why aren’t you going to those restrooms? They said, ‘The drug dealers won’t let us in.'”
Madigan says he talked to a police lieutenant about enforcing laws against camping, and smoking in parks, but that police were unable to do so.
“‘There’s a no smoking ordinance,'” Madigan says he told a police lieutenant. “‘Why aren’t you citing them for smoking?’ We were told that only park-rangers can cite people for park related ordinances.”
Local business owners took to documenting evidence of lawlessness on a website, northparkblocks.org. and formed an organization led by Michelle Cardinal—an owner of multiple properties and founder of boutique ad-firm R2C—to lobby the mayor and City Council.
“We took pictures of people having public sex in the parks,” he says. “One of our employees took a picture of a dealer injecting drugs into someone’s neck.”
In response to a video Cardinal produced, Mayor Hales and Commissioner Fritz visited the neighborhood, and the Oregonian published a series of articles documenting the “summer of lawlessness” in the park blocks. But Madigan says that this did not give him the results he needed to stay in the neighborhood.
He plans to re-open Remedy in an undisclosed space, after declining to renew his lease for an additional four years.
Glyph art cafe, also on the North Park Blocks, closed last September, citing similar concerns, although former owner Sandra Comstock said she believed that the situation had improved by the beginning of September. Madigan says the same, but that he thinks it will worsen again.
“When we moved in we knew the neighborhood was transitional,” he says. “We said all right, this will be a good thing to do.”
The last day of business at Remedy wine bar will be January 30.