"I Ain't Got No Home": Sit/Lie Reconsidered
More than 70 years ago, Woody Guthrie, the famous folk musician, sang "I Ain't Got No Home in
This World Anymore." The song related the terrible hardships of Dust Bowl refugees who left the
devastation of their lives, traveling west in hopes of finding homes and work. What many got
instead were illegal border closings in California and Oregon and police rousting them from the
cardboard shacks they found themselves living in. It seems not much has changed in 70 years for
In December, 2004 the Portland City Council enacted the Obstruction as Nuisance Ordinance, (aka
"Sit/Lie"), a sanitized name for dealing with those in our city who don't have a home anymore (see
PPR #35). As was the case seventy years ago, the Ordinance gives the police the power to
roust the homeless from our sidewalks. The Ordinance was slated to expire in June, but Council
voted to extend it until November. In the prior 18 months it appeared the main use of the Ordinance
was to move the homeless along. According to former Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson,
only eleven citations were issued. Citations can only be issued after an individual has received a
warning within the past seven days (Oregonian, May 24). Previous efforts by Portland
Copwatch to obtain specific statistics regarding those warnings revealed that no such information
seems to exist.
In May, Mayor Potter introduced a resolution before the City Council called the "Street Access for
Everyone" Initiative. The acronym, SAFE, implies a predetermined mind setthat our streets are not
safe. The initiative passed on May 24. A work group of representatives from law enforcement,
businesses and social service agencies has met several times with the goal of presenting
recommendations to Council by November 1.
Mayor Potter is encouraging the work group to focus on the roots of "street disorder"
(Skanner, May 31). While various newspapers, including the Skanner and the
Oregonian continue to refer to "disorder," the June 1st Portland Mercury
states that "The premise of the mayor's ordinance--that downtown streets are unsafe because they
are flooded with 'aggressive panhandlers' and public drunkards--is belied by a report released by
the police bureau three weeks ago stating that crime in the downtown area has actually dropped by
19 percent." In recent People's Police Reports, we have stressed that perceptions and reality
of downtown crime are at odds and that laws already exist which can be utilized when criminal acts
are being committed.
To lump all people who find themselves living on the streets with the generic phrase "street
disorder" only serves to dehumanize and criminalize them. The work group should give weight to
developing and utilizing resources to meet the many needs of those on the street. Perhaps then these
individuals will have a home in this world and won't be subject to citations, warnings and roustings
by the police just because of their circumstances.