People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Homeless Camp Outside City Hall in Protest
Starting on September 28, a protest regarding Portland's anti-camping ordinance took place outside Portland City Hall. Around two dozen campers gathered around the front entrance for a peaceful night time protest. Usually, the protesters numbered in the range of one to two dozen. They camped to bring awareness to the unsolved shelter problems for those without a home or any shelter. They were calling for a temporary suspension of the anti-camping ordinance and the creation of more shelter beds this winter.
The group protesting had Art Rios speaking for the right to have a safe place to sleep at night. Rios, a homeless activist, said: "Housing is a right. Employment is a right. May no one human being go without." He added that the campaign is a call to give "respect and dignity to all" (Oregonian, October 13).
Folks like Mike O'Callaghan told Council that the current laws "prohibit any human from sleeping" and that "it makes us criminal" (Oregonian, October 22). Police Commander Mike Reese's comment regarding homeless camps in the city is, "these camps are not where anyone would want to live, they're degrading." Cmdr. Reese also is quoted in the Oregonian saying, "tents can conceal drug use and illegal activity" (October 26). The police consider tents problematic. Yet Chief Sizer claims "it's rare for police to roust the homeless without a specific law enforcement complaint."
Year round, 600 shelter beds are available, with another 422 in the winter, and a surge capacity of 300 more in freezing weather. That is not enough: hundreds of less fortunate will be left with nowhere to go. In spite of a reported 40% decrease in those sleeping outside in 2007, the economic downturn has resulted in many new homeless folks. There are an estimated 4000 homeless people in Multnomah County, including those staying "with friends." On any night 1600 sleep outside (Oregonian, October 22 and 26).
The protesters complain that some were arrested for sleeping outside under the bridges trying to get shelter from temperatures in the 30s.
On October 13 (after two weeks) the protesters who stayed on the sidewalk around City Hall during the daytime, making their plight more visible, were asked to leave by Mayor Sam Adams. They had been protesting/camping only at night time and offered to be packed up at 7:30 am. The night time protest was to show that all they needed was a safe place to sleep. All the protesters involved in the vigil signed an agreement not to use alcohol or drugs, to obey the City laws, and not to engage in fighting or disrespectful activity. After the Mayor asked them to leave, the protesters held a press conference pleading for more shelters that allow pets and couples, and for the City to suspend the anti-camping ordinance. The protest ended October 14.
No doubt seeing the chance for their fifteen minutes of fame, on September 10, four cops from North Precinct, with the "COPS" TV crew in tow, raided the dining hall at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. The reason for this incursion into a meal provided for poor and homeless people was that the police were looking for an alleged homicide suspect. Invoking "Cool Hand Luke," Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese stated, "It was a failure to communicate." (Portland Mercury , October 8). Pastoral Administrator Valerie Chapman, indicated she had not been notified regarding this action and that it "had violated the church sanctuary" as well as the private property on which the church and dining hall stand. When questioned by Chapman, the officers indicated "the woman at the door" had given them permission, although there was no woman and no staff members had given the ok to tape.
After years of negotiaion (PPRs #15 &
28), an unwritten
agreement between Chapman and
the police required notification if officers were trying to contact or arrest a client at the dining hall.
Assistant Police Chief Brian Martinek later stated, "The decision to bring 'COPS' in wasn't the
best, in hindsight." The Bureau later clarified their agreement with St. Francis. The PPB also
decided that the video footage would not be shown, thus depriving the viewing public from seeing
Portland's finest facing down hungry people who had just finished saying grace for a warm meal.
A few days after the incident, the man in question was at the dining hall and Chapman alerted
police, who came and spoke with him outside. Despite the urgency with which they sought him, he
was not arrested (Oregonian, October 2).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.