Editorial: Time to revisit innovative camp options for the streets

Camping is a necessary evil for people experiencing homelessness and poverty throughout the city. It’s not a substitute for adequate housing.

The City of Portland is faced with a series of unusual circumstances related to people sleeping outdoors. Occupy Portland has taken over two city blocks using its First Amendment rights to protest a myriad of issues facing our city and nation — including some of the very issues the group itself is facing — mental health, homelessness and poverty.

At the same time, a group of 70 people experiencing homelessness have taken root on NW Fourth Avenue and Burnside. Concerning camping and orderly conduct, the group on Burnside is more seasoned on how to run a camp and has created strict guidelines determining whether or not individuals are allowed to stay on the property.

All of this happens while a backdrop of more than 1,700 individuals sleep outdoors in the Portland area without adequate shelter or housing. Once again, the issue of camping, or having a safe night’s sleep, has arrived on the doorstep of Portland’s City Hall.

For nearly 20 years, homeless advocates, business interests and City Hall have all worked together and battled it out on how best to deal with people on the streets concerning public and private space. It’s not altogether the city’s fault for the circumstances it finds itself in. Billions of dollars in federal cuts to housing and homeless services have battered local governments from being able to solve the issue of homelessness. It’s also not lost on us that many of the very same reasons Occupy Portland is protesting — foreclosures, bank bailouts, corporate welfare and other issues — are also tied to broken federal policies that are crippling the American people.

It’s time for a change, if even a minor change in the way we deal with people sleeping outdoors. Long after the Occupy Portland group packs up, be it next week or next year, thousands of people will remain on our streets, needing a place to sleep and simply be.

Street Roots recommends revisiting the idea of letting churches and private property owners allow people to camp on church property in small groups. We also support the idea of an organized group of people on the streets, like Right 2 Dream Too, to be able to practice their civil rights alongside others.

It’s time that the city created camping guidelines that gave the Portland Police Bureau and other law enforcement agencies — along with people on the streets — clear directives about what is allowed and what isn’t concerning sleeping outdoors without a home.

Clearly, no amount of camping guidelines or pilot programs will replace having a safe and stable home. Housing is about opportunity. It’s about being able to create healthy living environments for all Portlanders. It’s about doing the right thing and being fiscally responsible. Creating change around how we work with people on the streets is the first step in making a safer city for all.

3 responses to “Editorial: Time to revisit innovative camp options for the streets

  1. Pingback: Calling City Hall, Occupy Portland on housing… | For those who can’t afford free speech

  2. Pingback: Street Roots editorial: Calling City Hall, Occupy Portland on housing… | Occupy Portland

  3. Vera, Jump Over a Cliff

    Don’t tell me budget cuts equal lack of housing. It seems that no matter what the budget was or wasn’t, the Pearl District always seemed to have it’s adequate funding. The PDC made sure that tax dollars were abundantly thrown at their sweet development projects. Ask Vera Katz and Sam Adams and all their club pals how ‘tough’ it was to get the Pearl built. They never had to cut any budgets for the wealthier home-owners. Those people who buy condos in the South Waterfront do not have to pay property taxes for TEN YEARS. I don’t want to EVER hear how budget cuts equal housing shortages. That is only because city leadership and the PDC and the Portland Business Alliance (who REALLY runs the show and uses everyone else’s tax money to do it) decide to make that the reality. I don’t want to hear more bull &&&&.

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