Occupy Portland continues to ally with Portland’s homeless, periodically joining them at the 4th & Madison campsite. Just like 2011, the 2013 campsite has a surplus of donated food – and drugs, and trash. Just like 2011, City Hall is trying to ignore the whole thing. –Eds.
The aimless occupation of Southwest Fourth Avenue beside City Hall finally turned a major corner last week.
The corner of Fourth and Madison, to be precise. On Friday morning, the camp population had ballooned to at least 47, and 10 of the homeless were couched on Madison, moving ever closer to the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building.
When that building reopens Aug. 1, what are the odds its security troops adopt the same laissez-faire attitude about homeless sprawl as Mayor Charlie Hales?
Twenty months after police swept Occupy Portland from Chapman and Lownsdale squares, the tarps, shopping carts and hibachis once again dominate the back lot of City Hall.
READ – Our commentary in the Portland Tribune on the homeless-augmented Occupy Portland presence in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, Nov. 2011: Occupy Portland: End game leaves us in the same place
READ – More about homelessness
The Fourth Avenue assembly bears little resemblance to Occupy other than its staying power. There is no library, no Spokes Council, no sense of community, and, apparently, no readily convenient Porta Potty, which explains Bruce Cutts’ horror as he watches a young woman roll out of her sleeping bag and stumble into the trees at the west edge of Terry Schrunk Plaza.
“There’s no way I’d go in that place barefoot,” Cutts said.
But the camp is painfully and purposefully visible. One wonders how much more expansive it will become before the City Council takes note of it.
While the homeless aren’t blocking the sidewalk, they are clearly violating the city’s camping ban. True, the city only enforces that in high-traffic, high-visibility areas, but City Hall’s public entrance would seem to qualify.
“The police may come in aggressively and relocate people,” notes Lightning, the rare homeless advocate armed with a 1960 Nixon-Lodge campaign button, “but it doesn’t solve the problem.
“Housing is the solution. All of these people need to be provided housing, clear and simple.”
The unhoused, and unwashed, on Fourth Avenue are a curious mix. Cutts is 59, a former limousine company owner who has been camped here with his “good ol’ boy” of a dog since the Waterfront Blues Festival began.
Trevor Matney, 33, is a former security guard dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. His piece of the sidewalk is immaculate. “I’m old school,” he explains. “I believe in non-trace camping.”
That, Sandra Harmon concedes, is not the prevailing ethic. “These people are rude. They’re obnoxious. They’ve found a forum where they can do anything they want and get away with it,” Harmon says. “You should hear what goes on here at night.”
Heroin use? Of course.
Then there’s Lightning, the self-ascribed “think tank” who says he has camped on Southwest Fourth for a year and frequently lobbies City Council on ways to end the sleepover.
For roughly $470,000, Lightning argues, the city could house the entire cast for the next 12 months. If that sounds expensive, he adds, the sum pales beside what the city and county are spending — or losing — on social services, clean-up costs, police overtime and downtown business revenue.
“Sending out the cops doesn’t address the problem,” Lightning says. “It just moves it two blocks down the street.”
While Hales and Dan Saltzman, the new housing commissioner, dither, the throng is certain to expand. According to the latest estimates, there are almost 1,900 people sleeping on the streets or in their cars, and 4th Avenue is a tony address.
Drugs are available. So are the groceries. “You would not believe the amount of free food that comes in down here,” Matney says. “We get at least four meals a day, people coming by.”
What’s more, the summer breeze is soothing, the attention is addictive … and City Council has decided to let these sleeping bags lie.