Hunger strike ends on promise of regional conference over housing equity

If there is one substantial step forward to come out of the Cameron Whitten hunger strike for housing equity, it is the announcement of a regional conference on housing and homelessness.

This November, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon will convene a meeting with the city, county and Metro governments to address how the tri-county area can work together on housing and homeless issues.

Nick Fish, Portland’s city commissioner in charge of housing, says the forum will bring together the major players to examine issues of funding and regional equity throughout Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

“We’re a little less than half the pop of the tri-county region, and yet we’re 70 percent of the housing dollars,” Fish told Street Roots this morning. “We’re proud of our leadership role. On the other hand, homelessness is not unique to Portland, and it’s going to be important over time that everybody in the region participate fully.”

Since 2008, when Fish took office, the city has spent $215 million local dollars addressing affordable housing and homelessness, Fish said. “That’s a phenomenal commitment, and it dwarfs what we get from the federal government, and we have to be intentional about it.”

The city and county have long worked in tandem on providing housing and support services, and bringing in metro will incorporate zoning and urban growth policies to the discussion.

The summit is scheduled to occur after the general elections.

Cameron Whitten in Terry Schrunk Plaza last Friday during a rally supporting his demonstration. Photo by Art Rios

Whitten, 21, held a press conference outside of City Hall at 10 a.m. today to address the conclusion of his 55-day hunger strike in which he lost nearly 35 pounds. The conference was among the key victories he saw emerging from his protest against housing injustice.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz released her own statement on the issue at the same time as the press conference.

“We believe solving our local housing challenges is best accomplished with a stronger regional partnership involving advocates, agencies, non-profit and faith communities, and people experiencing homelessness. After the November elections is an opportune time to take a new look at regional homeless and affordable housing issues, as we welcome newly elected leaders to the table.”

Whitten started his hunger strike and 24-hour demonstration outside City Hall with three demands: that the Bureau of Development Services waive fines levied on the owners of the property where Right 2 Dream Too is established, for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department to issue a one-year moratorium on foreclosure evictions for homeowners, and for City Council to add a housing levy measure to the November 2012 General Election ballot.

While none of those issues were resolved, Fritz said in her statement that they would be discussed in the future.

“In addition to the Summit, the city is engaged in ongoing conversations about the futures of Right 2 Dream 2 and Dignity Village. When the time is right, we believe a future City Council will support a public vote on a new dedicated funding source for affordable housing.”

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