Tag Archives: Joanne Zuhl

A lifelong calling realized in one woman’s ordination

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Toni Tortorilla remembers being five years old, standing in the back of her church, and feeling a compelling magnetic force drawing her to the altar and to priesthood.

“That’s the only way I can describe it — pulling me to the altar, and in that instance I knew that that’s what I was to do. That’s my life. I knew that,” she says.

Now in her 60s, Tortorilla says that that calling never left her — throughout disappointments, depression, and the turmoil of an evolving church.

Throughout her life, her education and vocation was structured toward the priesthood in a church that didn’t allow it. Through the Second Vatican Council, as the church opened itself up to changes of the 1960s, women had newfound freedoms within the church — except ordination. But following the calling, she says, was in a way, part of the calling.

With the turn of the century, however, even that began to change. Seven women in Germany were ordained on the Danube River, and the future for Tortorilla and others who felt a similar calling would never be the same. Tortorilla was ordained in 2007. Today she leads services in the Sophia Christi Alternative Catholic Community in Portland and Eugene.

Still, the ordination of women is one of the core disputes between the Vatican and women religious, who have tacitly approved of the practice. For Tortorilla, who also identifies as a lesbian, it is an age-old battle of the sexes still in play.

Joanne Zuhl: At what point did it occur to you that you actually could be a priest?

Toni Tortorilla: That didn’t become a reality until 2002. I always pursued being a priest in whatever way I could. I knew that I wasn’t called to be a minister in another denomination. Inside I never stopped being called to priesthood. Many times I was depressed. I would get my hopes up and sort of pursue this line, thinking this will take me closer to doing what I’m called to do. Continue reading

Breaking: Safety net funding prevails in city budget hearing

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

After months of speculation over budget cuts and service reductions, Portland’s safety net for the homeless and poor has tentatively been restored in this morning’s City Council meeting with the pending passage of the city’s 2012-13 draft budget.

City Commissioner Nick Fish pushed forward two amendments to Mayor Sam Adams’ budget proposal before the final vote. The first was a request for $250,000 to fully restore the city’s one-time funding for services to the current level of $4.8 million. The bulk of the funding pays for emergency shelter and short-term rent assistance to keep families in their homes, and quickly restore housing to people who become homeless. It also includes funding for overnight shelter and supportive housing at the Bud Clark Commons, and referral and information resources.

Staffing vacancies from retirements were credited with freeing up the money, which is earmarked for foreclosure prevention and homeownership support.

As one-time allocations, the funding for these services come up for renewal with each budget cycle, and were subject to reductions at the mayor’s discretion — this, despite the services’ priority status by city’s Office of Management Finance.

Fish’s second amendment changes all that, reclassifying the serial one-time request to ongoing funding.

“The direction will be over the next two years to fold in $4.6 million of safety net funding into the ongoing budget, so we don’t have to go over this exercise each year,” Fish said. “The Office of Management Finance has identified this as a priority but the city was using an unstable source of funding. My job is to hold the council’s feet to the fire.”

Both amendments passed unanimously.

Fish credited the momentum to preserve the safety net to a months-long campaign featuring images of citizens and civic leaders holding a sign stating, “I support the Portland Safety Net.” The campaign was organized by a coalition of organizations and individuals, including Street Roots, JOIN, Oregon Opportunity Network, and the Community Alliance of Tenants. “It made a difference,” Fish said.

Shifting those services from one-time to ongoing funding streams has been a goal of Fish since he took office. “It really completes for me a four-year journey in what may end up being one of the toughest budget cycles we go through.”

Holding the line: A day in the life of 211info’s call center

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

You can hear it, from many miles away; that vacillation between hope and defeat grinding within men and women as they try to hold it together for the duration of one phone call.

They don’t always make it.

“We’re just beside ourselves. We’ve never been in this situation before and we don’t know what to do.” Continue reading

‘Domicile unknown’

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Laurie Crow would have been 54 on Dec. 27, 2011.

Instead, she became one of 47.

Only a few weeks before her birthday, she died curled up in her sleeping bag in a meadow near Going Street. Her partner, Clarence, was next to her, awake and listening as she slept through daybreak.

What he was hearing, in fact, was her body cooling in the December chill. It was Dec. 7.

The other 46 were also homeless, and all died on the streets of Portland in 2011.

Fourty-seven: Nearly 1 a week. Continue reading

Mayor Sam Adams defends proposal on city surveillance cameras

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

Mayor Sam Adams stood firm on his support of the proliferation of camera use by police under allegations from civil liberties advocates that they are ineffective and infringe on the public’s rights.

“I think the protection of civil liberties is very important but I also don’t want any of us to just dismiss the idea that this can help prevent crimes and solve crimes, because it does,” Adams told the audience at City Council today.

At issue is, by one description, a technicality in protecting property owners from damage caused by the installation, use and retrieval of cameras on their property. But it is more widely seen as a proposal by the mayor to allow the Portland Police Bureau to partner with property owners to install cameras aimed at public areas in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood to support the illegal drug impact area program there.

The proposal had been on last week’s City Council agenda, but it was pushed to this week under pressure from Portland Copwatch and the American Civil Liberties Union to allow for more time for public consideration.

Today it was again postponed to next week after Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz said they wanted to see the policies guiding the use of the cameras, which can tilt and zoom, under police control.

Dan Handelman, with the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch, said he is concerned the cameras violate the Oregon statute that prohibits the collecting and maintaining of information outside of criminal activity. Handelman testified before City Council that he was surprised to hear from City Attorney David Woboril that the city has cameras “all over the city.”

“We’re talking about giving them to law enforcement. That’s where the danger is,” Handelman said. “I don’t think there’s anything sinister about this, but I think we do need to have a discussion before this goes through.”

Becky Straus, the ACLU’s legislative director, testified that the cameras do not strike the right balance between safety and privacy.

“It’s a waste of money and there’s no evidence that it deters crime,” she told the council.

The mayor interrupted her testimony and told her to Google it.

“You said they don’t work, that they don’t prevent or solve crime,” Adams said. “We can tell you that that is patently not accurate. We do have cases where videotape has helped us apprehend someone who was dangerous … There is evidence. You can argue whether or not it’s worth the tradeoff, but there is compelling evidence that it does work.”

Continue reading

An end to the madness?

by Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

For the tens of thousands of Oregonians and their families who have lost their homes in the past four years, the recent announcement of the national mortgage settlement is of small comfort compared to their loss. The 49-state settlement will stretch over three years, and divide the $25 billion pound of flesh from the five major lending institutions down to about $1,800 per victim in Oregon.

But for the tens of thousands who are in the pipeline of foreclosure today, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

In Salem, two bills are left alive that would give Oregon homeowners protection against the predatory lending practices that contributed to the housing crisis and the avalanche of foreclosures it caused. Championing that cause through the Senate committee process is State Sen. Chip Shields, D-North/Northeast Portland, who chairs the General Government, Consumer and Small Business Protection Committee.

Shields’ committee  cleared Senate Bills 1552 and 1564 that would install protections for consumers when they go to modify their loans to avoid foreclosure, and do away with the dual-track process that allowed banks to blindside homeowners with foreclosure even while they were in the process of modifying their loan. The measures echo the national mortgage settlement overview, the details of which are still unknown.

However, the bills survival is questionable, and reports as of yesterday (Feb 27) indicated they might not survive a vote. House Republicans snuffed four similar bills by denying hearings in the committee process. And there’s a Republican proposal to remove the dual-track violation from prosecution under the unfair trade practices act, an action that Shields says would water down the law, remove any remedy to victims and prevent the state attorney general from pursuing justice on an issue that now dominates concerns among his constituents.

Chip Shields: I’d say four years ago, 70 percent of my constituent case work was helping people who were having problems with government agencies, department of human services, etcetera. Now, 70 percent of our constituent work is people who are just complete at wits end about how inept, either on purpose or by accident, their lender or their mortgage company is. People in situations where they’re going along with the modification process in good faith, and then, wham, they get the notice right in the middle of it that the bank is foreclosing on them for no good reason — when they’ve been following the advice of the person on the other end of the phone. So it’s a huge problem, and we’re not just hearing from homeowners, we’re hearing from Realtors who are amazed at how poorly their clients are being treated. Continue reading

Drug impact areas 240 people lighter after six months

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Six months into operation, the city’s drug impact area program has excluded 240 defendants from the city’s downtown and inner eastside neighborhoods — nearly one in four of all arrests for heroin, cocaine and marijuana in the county during that period.

The $250,000 program, implemented in June, allows the courts to exclude people from three geographical areas for up to two years, based upon their conviction. The three DIAs – assigned for heroin, cocaine and marijuana convictions – largely overlap covering the Downtown, Old Town, and Holladay Park neighborhoods.

The period ended in November, and the city released the report just this month.

“When you look at the amount of crime and the types of crime — it’s working,” said Billy Prince, DIA prosecutor with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office. Prince was speaking today to members of the Old Town/Chinatown Livability Committee, which led the cry last year to bring back exclusions to the neighborhood.

Altogether, the report references 1,064 arrests involving heroin, cocaine and marijuana throughout the county – 824 of them outside of the three DIAs. Regardless of where the arrest took place, a convicted offender could be excluded from one or all of the three areas downtown.

Continue reading

Right 2 Dream Too denied waiver by city

by Joanne Zuhl, staff writer

Right 2 Dream Too has been denied a waiver from the city for its rest area for the homeless at the corner of Northeast Burnside and Fourth Avenue and now owes the city $641 for code violations.

The group has until Jan. 16 to file a formal appeal to the citations levied by the city’s Bureau of Development Services. In December, the group sent in an administrative review request to the city to waive the fines and allow the camp to continue. It now has until Jan. 16 to file an appeal, which comes with a $1,215 appeals fee. Continue reading

Making a dream reality: Right 2 Dream Too’s success flies in the face of skeptics

A rendering of Right 2 Dream Too created by a local architecture firm

by Joanne Zuhl, staff writer (Photos by Israel Bayer)

It was supposed to be about the city’s new plan to allow limited car camping for people experiencing homelessness. But testimony at Wednesday’s City Council meeting became an extended appeal for another camping option, one that’s been, almost unanimously, highly successful for nearly three months.

During more than an hour of testimony, a series of people — many homeless — testified in defense of Right 2 Dream Too, a structured camp at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Burnside that is home to about 70 people experiencing homelessness. Continue reading

City opens up overnight camping option for select sites

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

For years, Portland’s anti-camping ordinance has been the target of countless demonstrations by the homeless and their supporters.

They have marched, protested and held vigils at City Hall against the city’s policy that makes camping illegal on public property or on unpermitted private land, which they say effectively criminalizes the thousands of people in this city without homes. Continue reading

Right 2 Dream Too ask for hardship waiver against looming penalties for Fourth and Burnside camp

Members of Right 2 Dream Too at a recent meeting to discuss their appeal with the city.

Right 2 Dream Too is appealing to the city to waive penalties against its camp at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Burnside while it works to address code violations issued by the Bureau of Development Services.

Right 2 Dream Too, which has operated an orderly camp at the entrance to Chinatown for more than two months, submitted its appeal to the BDS today. The group was cited in November for establishing an unpermitted recreational park-campground and for having a fence greater than six feet in height, also without a permit.

The document is as much a statement on the condition of homelessness in Portland today as it is an argument against the pending penalties, which could amount to nearly $600 a month.

“We’re trying to cooperate to the extent that we can,” says Michael Moore, one of the site’s organizers. “It’s not like an official waiver. The Director of Planning has the ability to (waive penalties) in special circumstances and we’re making the case that these circumstances warrant these consideration.”

In its appeal, the group says it believes the code being applied is overbroad, and that their site isn’t a “recreational” camp at all, but a facility for sheltering people who are homeless. The group says it is willing to work with the city to begin the permitting process on bringing the fence under code or finding a variance.

Unlike other tent cities of years past, Right 2 Dream Too has signed a one-year lease with the owners of the property at Fourth and Burnside, and since early October, the site has been home to approximately 70 people living in tents, supplied with a portable toilet and water, and bordered by a fence constructed of used doors.

“The extent and severity of the economic crisis that has led to a severe shortage of affordable housing and shelter space warrants consideration for a hardship waiver while we undertake this process. We have achieved more than many of us expected in terms of the impact we are having on the lives of Portland’s most disadvantaged and disenfranchised residents, those whom BDS’s mission to “Maintain safe and livable neighborhoods” is failing. We ask that the Bureau work with us to help extend this mission to all of Portland’s residents.”

Street Roots left a message for comment with Michael Liefeld, section manager for the BDS who has been handling this case, but he was not immediately available.

You can read the complete Right 2 Dream Too appeal here

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

True to what’s real: Painter Max Ginsburg records the social condition

“Foreclosure,” by Max Ginsburg, 40” x 65” oil, 2011, depicts the anguish and frustration of people in foreclosure. Of this painting, Ginsburg, shown below, says,“It is unconscionable that people are being evicted from their homes, especially when banks and corporations are being bailed out. This injustice is not supposed to happen in America.”

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

In the 1950s and ‘60s, when the world of art went headlong into the abstract, artist Max Ginsburg was bringing his view into tighter focus. Ginsburg’s world wasn’t fuzzy around the edges. His was vivid, animated and all too real.

“Realism is truth and truth is beauty,” Ginsburg has said, explaining his love of a style that was not being taught when he was a student, and shunned when he was a teacher. Even today, the anti-realism sentiment remains strong in a modern art world that he says too often celebrates difference for difference’s sake.

Ginsburg was born in 1931 in Paris, but from the age of 2 he was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of a painter and a pharmacist. From living room labor meetings to growing up Jewish during World War II, Ginsburg was exposed early to social turmoil, political activism and the hardships of poverty and oppression: To view it all, one had to look no further than the streets of New York, where Ginsburg’s eyes linger to this day, most recently at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

He grew up with racial prejudice, anti-Semitism and the fear of being murdered by the Nazis. But he was also exposed to left-wing and progressive thinking in reaction to the world around him. His father, the painter, encouraged his interest in art. His mother, the pharmacist helped organize a union in the hospital where she worked and nurtured Max’s political will. Continue reading

Extra! Extra!

Street Roots vendors will have a fresh copy of the paper ready for you Friday morning. Make sure you pick up a copy and say hello to a friendly face. It’s still only $1! Here’s what’s waiting for you inside:

True to what’s real: Painter Max Ginsburg records the social condition and his own political views with vivid realism. Joanne Zuhl interviews the remarkable painter and activist, who has a new retrospective in publication.

Realtors seek to amend state constitution over transfer taxes: A look at the proposal to prohibit local and state lawmakers from creating a real estate transfer tax, which has some affordable housing advocates concerned about losing a potential tool against homelessness.

The council incumbent: An interview with Amanda Fritz who faces two challengers for her seat on Portland City Council.

Another piece of occupied land: People’s Park: Street Roots’ own Mary Pacios was active in the movement to create People’s Park in Berkeley, Calif., and she writes about the battle between campers and the police and the government that wanted it to all go away.

Plus, commentaries from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and a review of a new book that looks at the rise and survival of radical social movements against poverty. And of course, poetry and art, crossword and Curbside! We love hearing from our readers, so let us know what you think. As always, thank you for your tremendous support!

TANF programs, already slashed earlier this year, drop again

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Misty McGee is stuck in the waiting game.

“I feel like I’m on hold. It’s really frustrating.”

Her biggest opponent is her own health. Cancer at a young age took her out of school life and into a hospital regimen that included two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation treatments. Working against her are multiple disabilities that have hampered her attempts to secure gainful employment. Three years ago she escaped with her son from an abusive relationship and into shelter.

She got out of the shelter with the help of the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program. Now, with chronic health issues preventing her from working – she’s says her doctor has had her on medical leave for the past year and a half – she’s wading through the years-long process of getting Supplemental Security Income. As is the routine for the majority of applicants, Misty was denied in the first round. She believes that she could get back to work eventually, but the program — that in her own words has helped her so much — will not be there to provide child support should she look for and secure work. And the TANF JOBS program is mere shadow of it’s former self, leaving people with high barriers to employment, similar to Misty, on the bubble. Continue reading

Poverty figures unlikely to change course anytime soon

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Census figures released Tuesday put on paper what many of us have known for a long time. Times are tough, getting tougher.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s figures, the nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 increased from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent — the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate and the highest since 1993. The Bureau estimates that more than 2.5 million entered poverty in 2010, totaling more than 46 million Americans. It is the fourth consecutive increase in that figure, and the highest number since poverty estimates have been published.

Oregon’s poverty rate is at 14.1 percent, essentially unchanged from 2009.

“The increase in poverty obviously means that there is a greater need for a social safety net,” said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “We think today’s news about the increase in the poverty rate means that both Congress and the state need to start creating a good, robust jobs program and raising the necessarily revenues to fund the public services to lift people out of poverty.”

Sheketoff said the figures were not surprising, given the severity of the recession and the anemic recovery.

“Oregon has never done a good job at reducing the poverty rate,” Sheketoff said. “And unfortunately we have no one in state government who is responsible for that.”

In 2009, the Oregon State Legislature did raise taxes to cover the budget shortfall for basic services. The 2011 legislature did not, a move Sheketoff calls ill-advised. Among the reductions this year were cuts to the employment and skills training programs and child care services for low-income parents seeking employment.

The numbers may be the highest since 1993, but the conditions are different, Sheketoff said.

“Our safety net for poor families with children was better in the early 1990s,” he said. “We had a more robust program for families with dependent children, a more robust jobs programs and skills program. We are serving a smaller percentage of the poor than we used to and we’re giving them less. The legislature wrongly scaled back the basic job opportunity and skills program. We’ve let inflation erode access and made cutbacks.” Continue reading