Tag Archives: Sisters Of The Road

On the road again

Van # 2 on I-5

Brian Feist, our driver

Our crew in Van #1 - representing Sisters, SR, and CAT

Posted by  Israel Bayer

Photos from the Sisters Of The Road party

Around 60 people experiencing homelessness and organizers came out tonight for a gathering at Sisters Of The Road to watch the “I have a dream,” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King and to celebrate going to San Francisco for the WRAP action on Jan. 20. Around 60 individuals from the streets have been organized to go to San Francisco— which is no small feat on the homeless front. The logistic alone are enough to make your head spin. Sisters (and Street Roots) deserve made props for taking the time include people experiencing homelessness in the building of community.

The mood tonight was jovial. People danced to DJ 6 Element tracks, sang gospel songs, drank coffee and enjoyed stories during the three-hour event. Here are some pics.

We’re going to San Francisco. Join us in solidarity.

Posted by Israel Bayer.

Change.org & Street Roots team up to cover San Francisco action

Street Roots and Change.org are teaming up to cover the up and coming homelessness and housing action in San Francisco.

Starting Monday, Street Roots will be posting day-to-day activities of the trip down to San Fran from Portland organized by Sisters Of The Road and the Western Regional Advocacy Project. At the end of each day, Change.org will be posting a overview of the day’s events.

We will also be highlighting the action itself and other community organizations involved from around the West Coast.

Locally, the Willamette Week has covered the action and we’re expecting to receive more press both locally and nationally— which will be highlighted on the Street Roots and Change.org blog.

What’s unique about this event is that organizations have managed to organize hundreds, possibly more than a 1,00o individuals experiencing homelessness to travel to San Francisco— not small feat on the homeless front.

In the meantime, check out the Change.org post for videos from the from the Los Angeles Community Action Network that will be attending the demonstration to demand change.

Change.org is also setting up a web page for organizations and individuals from around the globe to sign on to the action. It will be available shortly.

Posted by Israel Bayer

Oregon groups join J20 action for affordable housing and civil rights – You can be next!

Organizations throughout the Portland region have endorsed the Western Regional Advocacy Project gathering in San Francisco on Jan. 20 to demand affordable housing and civil rights from the Obama Administration.

It’s not to late for you or your group (non-profits, community organizations, businesses) to sign the petition in support.

The following groups have endorsed the Jan. 20th action: Community Alliance of Tenants, White Feather Peace Community, Jobs With Justice, American Friends Service Committee of Portland, Downtown Chapel, Peace Voice, Northwest Pilot Projects, Rose CDC, Mental Health Association of Portland, Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Street Roots, Sisters Of The Road and Oregon On.

On January 20, 2010 the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) will be gathering in downtown San Francisco at the regional HUD offices to demand the following from the Obama  Administration:

ON HOUSING

•    Immediately restore the Federal Government’s affordable housing funding to comparable 1978 levels. (In 1978, the budget was over $83 billion – in 2009 it is a meager $38.5 billion.)

•    Restore USDA new unit construction levels in rural communities to the 31,000 annually averaged between 1976 and 1985.

•    Enact a moratorium on the demolition, conversion or destruction of ANY publicly funded units until federal law guarantees one for one replacement at existing affordability rates.

•    Ensure adequate funding for operations of public housing to prevent unit loss, high vacancy rates, and substandard living conditions.

ON CIVIL RIGHTS

•    Stop “nuisance crimes” or “quality of life crimes.” These programs criminalize and remove homeless, poor, people of color, and disabled members of our communities.

•    Call for DOJ to respond to LA community request for investigation of discriminatory police enforcement under the Safer Cities Initiative that targets homeless, poor, people of color and disabled community residents.

•    Ensure that the more than 914,000 homeless children in our public schools are able to stay at their “home school” are fully integrated with their housed peers, and are provided the support they need to learn and thrive.

•    Stop any and all questions regarding a person’s immigration status when they are requesting housing, health care, emergency shelter or services.

Read more and sign the petition!

Sisters Of The Road and Street Roots are founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).  Our mission is to build a movement that is based in the experience of people with experience with homelessness to expose the root causes of homelessness; challenge unjust housing and economic development policies; and fight the criminalization of poverty.

Genny Nelson, Sisters’ co-founder, retires

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

Letting go of Sisters Of The Road has been a gradual process for Genny Nelson, and for good reason. It is no small measure to say that the organization — which includes a cafe, a civic action group and a resource and organizing center for the homeless — has been Nelson’s lifeblood since she and Sandy Gooch founded it 30 years ago.

As Sisters now marks three decades this month, Nelson is formally retiring. The former executive director has amassed milestones that stem from the extremely personal to the highly public, including the National Caring Award, and made her an icon in the homeless community.

Ironically, Nelson’s retirement comes as the number of people on the streets continues to escalate and poverty creeps into more and more households across Portland. We talked with Genny about her thoughts on these times and her reflections of what continues to be a lifetime of service.

Joanne Zuhl: Sisters Of The Road is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month and the demand for your services has never been greater. How has Sisters adapted to the changing – and increasingly challenging – times over the past three decades?

Genny Nelson: We have stayed the course. Sisters Of The Road is as passionate now as when we first began, about who we are. Sisters is a nonprofit organization grounded in the philosophies of non-violence and gentle personalism, while operating from a community organizing model, all within a systemic change approach.

We believe if you want to solve homelessness, do more than satiate the immediate, urgent needs of homeless people, build community and share power with them; create systems that teach self reliance instead of dependence; and remember, until men and women experiencing the calamities of homelessness and poverty are full participants at the table where public policy on homelessness is being decided, we will never resolve it.

Continue reading

Join us in S.F. to demand affordable housing and civil rights!

Sisters Of The Road and Street Roots are founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).  Our mission is to build a movement that is based in the experience of people with experience with homelessness to expose the root causes of homelessness; challenge unjust housing and economic development policies; and fight the criminalization of poverty.

On January 20, 2010 the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) will be gathering at the San Francisco Federal Builidng to demand the following from the Obama  Administration:

ON HOUSING
•    Immediately restore the Federal Government’s affordable housing funding to comparable 1978 levels. (In 1978, the budget was over $83 billion – in 2009 it is a meager $38.5 billion.)
•    Restore USDA new unit construction levels in rural communities to the 31,000 annually averaged between 1976 and 1985.
•    Enact a moratorium on the demolition, conversion or destruction of ANY publicly funded units until federal law guarantees one for one replacement at existing affordability rates.
•    Ensure adequate funding for operations of public housing to prevent unit loss, high vacancy rates, and substandard living conditions.

ON CIVIL RIGHTS
•    Stop “nuisance crimes” or “quality of life crimes.” These programs criminalize and remove homeless, poor, people of color, and disabled members of our communities.
•    Call for DOJ to respond to LA community request for investigation of discriminatory police enforcement under the Safer Cities Initiative that targets homeless, poor, people of color and disabled community residents.
•    Ensure that the more than 914,000 homeless children in our public schools are able to stay at their “home school” are fully integrated with their housed peers, and are provided the support they need to learn and thrive.
•    Stop any and all questions regarding a person’s immigration status when they are requesting housing, health care, emergency shelter or services.

Read more and sign the petition!

Artwork by Claude Moller

Discuss sit-lie at Street Roots blog…

sitlie_palmtree

Two op-eds in the Oregonian discuss the merits of the sit-lie ordinance. One from the very well respected and engaging Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese. The Commander argues that the sit-lie ordinance is needed for the communities quality of life.

With the ruling in June, the only tool police now have to address sidewalk obstruction is the state disorderly conduct statute, a criminal offense, which raises the question: Should the police arrest someone engaged in sidewalk obstruction using a criminal statute? It seems a little like driving a thumbtack with a sledgehammer.

The ordinance, on the other hand, strikes a balance that allows police to keep the sidewalks free for pedestrian travel while recognizing the many exceptions that may legitimately apply (people waiting for goods or services such as TriMet riders, medical issues and protests). The police can only issue citations after warning a person that their behavior is a problem, and the charge is a violation that can result in community service or a fine.

Most important to note is that the majority of citations have been issued to “road warriors,” young adults between 18 and 30 years of age. They’re the ones engaged in aggressive panhandling and intimidating behavior in downtown. I’ve talked to nearly a hundred of these young adults over the past three years. Most are addicted to heroin or alcohol. They travel across the country and don’t have ties to our community.

The op-ed continues…

The sidewalk obstruction ordinance is one of the few tools the police have that allows us to engage the road warriors and local street youth in a fairly low-level enforcement manner. In fact, I’ve had several “sidewalk” conversations with the young woman whose case resulted in the recent court ruling. My hope is that this dialogue will help support and encourage her to become clean, sober and permanently housed.

The notion that being homeless means that you can engage in anti-social behavior is not reasonable. So is the idea that the city cannot reasonably regulate the sidewalks in downtown for the common good. Somehow all of us have to find a way to get along. We as a community have to decide what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

As part of the SAFE process, homeless providers and advocates, business leaders, downtown residents and police officers came to the same conclusion: Blocking sidewalks and intimidating other people is not acceptable. Through this ordinance, we had an effective way to address this behavior. The sidewalk obstruction ordinance made downtown a more welcoming and safe place for everyone.

Read Reese’s entire op-ed here.

Genny Nelson, co-founder of Sisters Of The Road argues that outlawing homelessness will not make it go away.

With shelters full and an adequate number of affordable housing units not yet built, we need to stop punishing people dealing with homelessness for human survival activities like sleeping, sitting or lying down outside.

For years now, local efforts across the country to deal with growing homeless populations often start with innocuous-sounding language about the “quality of life” of the housed and business sectors of the community. Or perhaps they are billed as an effort to ensure that communities don’t become a “magnet for the homeless” or, as in Portland, that there is “street access for everyone.”

But over time, more laws and ordinances get passed, and they all have one primary common goal: to remove the presence and resulting impact of people without housing from local communities.

She continues…

Police who handed out warnings reported being told: I have no place to go; I’m trying to get some sleep; I’m tired of standing; I don’t have a house; My legs are hurting me; and I was only sitting for a moment to rest. When these men and women are unable to pay a fine due to their poverty, and if they are instructed to attend community court but don’t because they contend the ordinance violates their civil rights, they end up with a warrant out for their arrest. Criminalizing homelessness makes no sense.

Remember, local governments cannot legally discriminate against people strictly because they do not have housing. Federal protections prohibit local and state governments from removing people from their communities due to the color of their skin or their economic/employment status.

Nelson ends her op-ed by noting,

It is impossible to fill a $54 billion housing hole with a mere $1.4 billion of annual homelessness-assistance funding and 10-year plans to end homelessness.

If we want to address homelessness in the U.S., we need to stop looking at homeless people as “them,” and we need to start looking at us. If we believe our government represents us, it is we, the people, who must pressure our elected officials to make a real commitment to restore funding for affordable housing. Outlawing homelessness won’t make it go away; nothing ends homelessness like a home.

Read the entire Nelson op-ed here.

Read the history of the sit-lie ordinance in Portland.

Read recent Street Roots editorial on sit-lie.

Discuss...

Photo by Frank Furter.

Posted by Israel Bayer.

Sit-lie update and seven year history

Sit-lie1Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen K. Bushong has ruled that the city of Portland’s sidewalk-obstruction ordinance — commonly referred to as sit-lie, unconstitutionally exceeds the city’s authority.

The ruling was issued June 19, and grants the motion to dismiss a sit-lie case being defended by attorney Clayton Lance.

“This ordinances has been found unconstitutional on three separate and distinct grounds,” Lance told Street Roots. “That’s a heck of a lot of unconstitutionality for one little ordinance out of the city. It just is not going to work and they just keep trying to make it fit, and it will never be able to fit, in my opinion.”

The sit-lie law prohibits sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The city has said that it is to keep the sidewalks free of obstructions. Records show that the majority of people cited under the law are homeless.

Judge Bushong ruled that the city’s law conflicts with and is pre-empted by state law; State v. Robison, which Lance says already allows the city to penalize people for obstructing sidewalks.

“The (sit-lie) ordinance does not at all deal with obstruction. That’s a myth,” Lance said. “It was to move the transient and the homeless because the transient and homeless were sitting on the sidewalks in downtown Portland. Nothing else.”

As Lance noted, this is the latest round in the city’s failed attempts to institute a sit-lie law. In 2004, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Litzenberger ruled that the city’s 2003 version of the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The current version was a response to that ruling with more specific information on what was and was not prohibited. The Court of Appeals further ruled that the 2003 version was pre-empted by state law, the same as Bushong’s ruling.

“In the United States, we fundamentally respect the rights of individuals to meet, to assemble, to communicate and to use public property. And (the city’s) attempts at curtailing those fundamental rights have been unconstitutional every step of the way.”
It is presumed by many that the city will revise its ordinance for another round. Lance says he is ready to defend any charges under the ordinance for free.

“Because of social justice and compassion,” Lance said. “We need to have social justice and compassion. And this law lacks that completely.”

In May, the City Council voted 4-1 to extend the ordinance until October, with the only dissenting voice on the council being Commissioner Randy Leonard.
City Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz are currently leading a community process for input on the controversial ordinance.

Fritz told Street Roots she is reviewing the ruling and communicating with the City Attorney’s office before making a formal comment.

Fritz does say, “I am currently hoping our public meetings over the summer will go ahead as planned, as now more than ever we need to talk together to figure out solutions that work for everyone.”

“I never supported the sit-lie, because of its effect on some of our most vulnerable citizens,” says Leonard.  “I am happy the courts agree.”

“Everyone at City Hall is circling the wagons and trying to figure out next steps,” says Matt Grumm with Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office. “People are aware of the decision and next week we will have a little more clarity.”

Asked if the police are currently enforcing the law after the ruling, Grumm says, “The commissioner has not asked the police to stop or discontinue with enforcement.”

The court’s ruling was welcome news at Sisters Of The Road, which has campaigned against the ordinance since its creation.

“This ruling re-affirms what Sisters has known from the beginning,” says Brendan Phillips with Sisters Of The Road. “The sit-lie law violates the human rights of Portlanders, it (also) violates the constitutional rights of Portlanders and hopefully this (ruling) will lead the city to immediately repeal the ordinance.”

Seven years of sit-lie; A history of Portland’s sidewalk suits

Continue reading

Out and down: After serving time, many former inmates find that the real trial begins upon release

prisionart50

(Art Rios, a member of the Civic Action Group at Sisters Of The Road Cafe, discusses his experiences in and out of prison.)

Matt Gollyhorn remembers it well: sitting uncomfortably on a bench and waiting for the bus — a ride that he had anticipated for almost eight years. The sun reflects off his shiny head, and he stares blankly in front of him. A half empty box of knickknacks sags beside the folds of his undersized sweat suit, and he kicks at gravel with shoes that are two sizes too big. “What am I gonna do now?” He asks aloud, fingering the $220 check in his pocket.

It was all he had to his name after seven and a half years in prison. Continue reading

Act Now!

At issue: Community engagement

Join Sisters Of The Road and Oregon Action on Jan. 19 for their 30th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. event to honor the work of the Poor People’s Campaign.

The MLK Day event will be on the eve of the inauguration of a new president and a fitting time to remember Dr. King’s work for economic human rights.mlk

A march from Sisters Of The Road to St. Mary’s Academy will be preceded by a program honoring Dr. King and kicking off Sisters’ work to bring economic human rights to our community.

This is a special time in our country; by working together we can use this as an opportunity and achieve the goals we all know we need to achieve. Please take the time to join us with your friends and family.

The celebration begins at 2 p.m., Monday, Jan. 19 at Sisters Of The Road (133 NW 6th Ave). There will be some snacks before the march. At 3 p.m. the march will leave from Sisters and head toward St. Mary’s Academy (1615 SW 5th Ave). If you don’t want to march, feel free to meet at St. Mary’s around 3:30 p.m. for the program.

Organize to address the economic crisis

Jobs with Justice and a growing number of other organizations, including Street Roots, invite you to a town hall meeting on the economic crisis.

The meeting will be at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31, at the First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave.

We have a great opportunity to organize for an economy that provides opportunity for working and poor people, an economy that helps communities thrive and reverses decades of growing inequality, take-backs, union busting, unfair trade agreements, cuts in health care and the oppression of the poor.

In these extraordinary times, it is so important that we be proactive and learn, strategize and organize together!

The event will feature panelists with experience and expertise on the economic collapse and ways to organize for solutions.

Streets illustrate city’s unbalanced approach

October 17, 2008

The question inevitably went something like this. Where do I go?

The answer was often Sisters Of The Road, the small café at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Davis Street, where people could get a hot meal and use a restroom. More recently, people have been able to collect their mail, organize around important issues, get needed hygiene materials, blankets and other survival items that living without a home demand.

That’s where they could go when they were told they could not rest on the sidewalk, under the bridges, in downtown doorways, and so many other sites of urban refuge.

The directions were given by police and security guards under city orders to remove people in unwanted places, through laws such as the sidewalk obstruction ordinance, more commonly known as sit-lie for it’s ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks during daylight hours. They come in the form of park exclusions and anti-camping laws, which prohibit people from being in public parks if they are sleeping there. The directions are on the instruction sheet given to city policy enforcers who encounter people experiencing homelessness every day.

Go to Sisters, they said. And to Sisters they went. And now Sisters is being villianized for welcoming people with the generosity and services this city has come to expect from an organization built on nonviolence and a proven record of creating a safe environment for people in crisis. But on the flip side, we’re seeing that crisis compounded, concentrated on the sidewalk, in public, outside, in the very place they were told to go. Continue reading

Sit-lie is a gateway drug

August 12, 2008

One good dose of this distracting intoxicant and a whole roomful of people are likely to spin off on every social ill, vice and offense ever witnessed on Portland’s streets.

Yesterday at the public hearing for the city’s sit-lie ordinance (more formally known as the sidewalk obstruction ordinance) about 60 people assembled at the First Unitarian Church with members of the Street Access for Everyone, or SAFE Oversight Committee. They attended the two-hour hearing, organized by Mayor Tom Potter’s office, to give their views on the controversial ordinance that bans sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. It also bans leaving belongings and pets farther than two feet away from your body.

While the ordinance was the launch pad for this debate, discussion from participants ran the gamut: complaints about anti-camping policies, police sweeps and the routing of people without homes, the lack of follow-through on city’s pledges to open more restrooms, install sufficient numbers of benches and create a permanent day access center – the latter three promised by the city in exchange for the sit-lie ordinance.

Several people raised the issue of private security guards, hired by the Portland Business Alliance, being confused with police officers, who they said are enforcing the law inconsistently. There were also complaints by downtown workers and business owners who say they’ve been harassed, grabbed and even spit on by people outside their businesses, that aggressive panhandling is a problem, and that the number of homeless people, particularly “scary” youths, on the street is growing – none of which has much to do with the law itself, nor are they situations that sit-lie has done one whit to alleviate, despite efforts to couple them politically.

More after the jump.

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Truth Commission offers tears and insight

August 7, 2008

Old Town was alive tonight. Nearly 60 individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty gathered with allies and advocates at Sisters Of The Roads’ sponsored Truth Commission on the sit-lie ordinance.

Around 20 people gave rather emotional testimonies about their experiences with the obstruction as nuisance ordinance and other realities of living on the streets.

Many of the testimonies touched upon the idea of that the law unfairly targets individuals who are tired and beat down – constantly living in fear for their safety from both law enforcement and criminal elements existing on the streets.

Housed community members delivered a series testimonies about why the sit-lie does not protect Portlanders and wastes taxpayer money.

One housed speaker told the audience that she never asked City Hall or the Portland Business Alliance for her safety to be protected from people experiencing homelessness. “We all live in the same city.”

Newly elected City Commissioner Nick Fish, City Hall staffers, and council candidates Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis looked on, while reporters circled the event trying to get the scoop.

Charles Lewis spoke early in the event about his experience sleeping out on the streets for a night prior to deciding to run for office.

Tom Hastings with Portland State University, Jeff Bissonette a consumer advocate with Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, Father Ron with the Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish, and Paul Boden with the Western Regional Advocacy Project based in San Francisco offered their insights and reflections about the testimonies and civil rights on Portland’s streets. Community organizer Patrick Nolen with Sisters mc’ed the event.

Crowds gathered in front of Sisters conversing after the event while festivities for Portland’s First Thursday filled the sidewalks.

Street Roots will be publishing exerts from interviews done with people on the streets about the obstruction ordinance in the August 8, edition.

On August 11th the Safe Access For Everyone oversight committee will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at the First Unitarian Church from 3-5PM.

Posted by Israel Bayer

Sisters Of The Road to hold truth commission on sit-lie law

Portland, Oregon (July 21,) — Thursday, August 7, 2008, Sisters Of The Road will hold a truth commission on the effects of the Sit-Lie Law on Portland’s homeless community. It will be held at Sisters at 133 NW 6th Ave at 5:30pm.

According to data submitted to the City by the Portland Police Bureau, the Sit-Lie Law has been enforced almost exclusively against homeless people. Enforcement of the Sit-Lie Law is not only inhumane and immoral, it’s unconstitutional; the constitution says laws cannot be enforced against any one class of people. Of the 88 warnings and citations issued between August 30th, 2007 and January 22nd, 2008, 79 were people who were identified as homeless, transient, or no address was listed, said Patrick Nolen, Community Organizer for Sisters Of The Road.

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Without rights, without housing

(July 14) Paul Boden connects the New Deal with today’s current climate on the streets.

In 1933, when more than a million Americans were homeless, President Roosevelt’s New Deal made their economic and social well-being a federal responsibility. In 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans will live without housing; homeless children in school number more than 900,000 according to the Department of Education. Ironically, in this election year – which marks the 75th anniversary of the New Deal – neither major party nor presidential candidate has acknowledged a federal responsibility. It is time that they do so.

The federal government created the contemporary crisis of mass homelessness by cutting and refusing to restore billions of dollars in funding for affordable housing programs. Since 1982, every federal plan to address homelessness has failed because every plan has been based on the assumption that something was wrong with the people who were finding themselves without housing. Every plan has focused on individuals: FEMA emergency shelter plans, HUD Continuum of Care plans and 10-Year Plans to End Homelessness as spearheaded by the Bush administration’s Interagency Council on Homelessness all identify homeless people as “the problem” that needs fixing.

Continue reading