The Right 2 Dream Too overnight sleeping area on Fourth Avenue and Burnside deserves to be taken seriously. Specifically, city officials, nonprofits and institutions that champion housing should practice what they preach and find a way to work with the group of 50-plus people on the streets doing everything in their power to help themselves.
Each night, more than 1,700 individuals sleep in the cold on Portland’s streets. In response, Housing Commissioner Nick Fish led an effort along with local churches and the county to offer car camping and overnight sleeping to a small group of people in church parking lots. City Hall and the faith-based community should be commended for their efforts. Looking outside the box for short-term solutions while individuals and families wait to secure housing is a positive step in the evolution of working with thousands of people on the skids.
The group of 50-plus homeless individuals who have been camped downtown since Oct. 2 is one small example of people on the streets standing up and doing something for themselves.
Since that time, Street Roots and others have noticed that Old Town/Chinatown has been calm, quiet even, on some nights. The camp, coupled with overflow shelter beds, has given downtown a sort of refuge during the cold spell.
We have gone around and around with city officials, neighborhoods and business representatives for more than a decade on the camping issue. We’ve watched different efforts come and go. Dignity Village was born out of similar circumstances in 2000.
First and foremost, the city should find a way for Right 2 Dream Too to coexist with scores of other nonprofits working with people on the streets. The camp is low-cost and offers a safe place to sleep away from the doorways, bridges and many other unhealthy environments that people on the streets are forced to sleep in every night. The city spends millions of dollars to staff services that Right 2 Dream Too can offer for less than pennies on the dollar.
Second, Right 2 Dream Too needs to make sure they learn from past campaigns and offer its best effort to partner with housing agencies, outreach workers and others to find people staying at Right 2 Dream Too permanent housing. If the city can offer a place for the camp, the camp can offer a place for outreach workers and other services to have a safe place to build relationships.
If the city simply sweeps Right 2 Dream Too aside and lets dozens of individuals filter out again into the cold of night, scattered throughout downtown, it will leave a bitter and cynical taste in the mouths of advocates and Portlanders who can see with their own eyes that the group is doing something positive for people experiencing poverty in our community.
People on the streets have little power when it comes to political wranglings at the city. Right 2 Dream Too, from the start, has been organized and professional. The camp is clean, orderly and, most importantly, safe. Something that you won’t find in the dead of a cold, winter Portland night.