From the Oct. 2 edition of Street Roots
Just as the city of Portland, service providers and advocates are seeking ways to allow homeless individuals without access to shelter “get a decent night’s sleep,” a group of individuals has begun camping outside of City Hall, reminiscent of a three-week protest in May 2008.
Gathering outside of Mercy Corps’ Action Center near Skidmore Fountain on Sept. 28, a group of 20 homeless individuals signed a code of conduct, agreeing to not use drugs or alcohol, pick up after themselves and to respect others. Once they were all signed, they took the MAX to City Hall and set up their camping gear to sleep there during the night.
Organized by Art Rios, who was formerly homeless and has been involved with Sisters of the Road’s Civic Action Group, the group is camping outside of City Hall during the night for the same reasons, Rio says, that homeless people protested for three weeks outside of City Hall in 2008.
“Get the anti-camping ordinance suspended,” he says. “It’s about coming to a safe place to sleep for eight hours. We just want a campsite that’s safe.”
A statement released by Rios calls for the creation of safe places for tent cities, campsites and shelter before the weather turns cold.
“They (the city) need to open up more shelters and they know that, but we can show them they need to move it a little quicker,” says Chris Shields, 47, a homeless person who was part of the group sleeping outside of City Hall.
In the last few months, the Portland Housing Bureau and members of the Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness, the committee of Portland Housing Bureau members, advocates, and nonprofit service providers that oversee and implement the City’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness have been considering ways that might address Rios’ and the camper’s concerns.
An informal committee calling itself the Alternative Workgroup, convened by Sally Erickson, the manager of the Portland Housing Bureau’s Ending Homelessness Initiative, has met three times during the past two months, with a narrow focus: think of ways that homeless people who camp outside, either willfully or because they cannot get into shelter, can sleep through the night safely. The work group includes representatives from Sisters of the Road, Street Roots, and several people experiencing homelessness, including Street Roots’ vendor Leo Rhodes.
“It’s in all of our interests that everyone is able to stay warm and healthy,” says Marc Jolin, the executive director of the outreach agency JOIN, who is a member of the Coordinating Committee and the Alternatives Workgroup. “If they can’t get a good night’s sleep, they can’t stay healthy, their ability to help themselves is severely compromised.”
On Sept. 16, the Alternatives Workgroup presented its 13 recommendations to the Coordinating Committee. Continue reading