Monday, May 08, 2006

The fear patrol is at it again (Street Smarts-sit/lie)

The Downtown Public Safety Action Committee (PSAC) is made up of on-going representatives from various interest groups from the downtown and Old Town/Chinatown Neighborhoods to identify areas of public safety, and serve as an advisory committee for the implementation of long-term community-based strategies to address these identified issues.

Members of PSAC include the Portland Business Alliance, the police bureau, neighborhood representatives, Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), city hall staffers, homeless agencies and advocates.

The following are excerpts from a document scheduled for review by PSAC this month. (It’s unclear who would use the language for a PR campaign against panhandlers - possibly the Portland Business Alliance, ONI, or maybe the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.)

“Street Smarts
- Plan ahead and know where you’re going. Before leaving your hotel, request directions from the concierge or doorman. Ask the hotel’s staff to recommend safe, well-lighted routes.
- If you need to ask for directions on the street, look first for a green-jacketed Portland ambassador, a police or security officer, or other public employee.
- Whenever possible, travel with a friend or fellow conventioneer when sightseeing, shopping or going to and from meeting facilities.
- Use common safety sense. Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel unsafe, step into a shop or store. Look for a police officer or security personnel.
- Keep close watch on your personal belongings.
- If you have an emergency, call 9-1-1 for Police, Fire, or Emergency Medical Services. You can use any pay phone for free, or use your cell phone.

Panhandling: We all feel compassion for those in need. However, please do not encourage or reward panhandlers by giving money. A simple “No, sorry” is a sufficient reply to requests for spare change.

Aggressive panhandling is illegal in Portland. If someone confronts you or blocks your path and demands money, you do not have to comply. Such intimidation can be reported to the police by calling 9-1-1. Intimidating behavior may also be reported to the Downtown Clean & Safe office.”

Really the group is about spreading fear, as is outlined in the document above. Why would anyone want to visit Portland after reading something like this? Poor people have a right to ask for money (free-speech), organize, and take up public space – it’s that simple. Public space is for everyone.

So, in honor of Street Smarts, I’m asking Portlander’s, and tourists to personally give your extra pocket change to panhandlers downtown this summer.

Even more troubling, PSAC is set to look at the renewal of Portland’s controversial Obstruction as Nuisance ordinance, otherwise known as the sit/lie ordinance that prohibits a person from sitting, or lying on portions of a sidewalk downtown. Many believe the law is selectively enforced against poor and homeless people.

The ordinance has been a political football for years. After the ordinance was declared unconstitutional in 2004, city hall, and varying interest groups, including Sisters of the Road, and Street Roots signed on to an 18-month pilot project that would show outcomes of the ordinance.

The ordinance is set to sunset on June 15.

In a letter sent to the mayor and council on May 1, Portland Business Alliance President, Michael R. Kuykendall says, “The Portland Police Bureau has been able to issue only five citations under the ordinance, and members of the downtown business community and residential communities regularly indicate that the criminal behavior intended to be controlled by the ordinance has only worsened since its passage.” Funny, I thought the ordinance was meant to enforce obstructing a portion of a sidewalk, not to “control criminal behavior.”

The letter sent by Kuykendall goes on to recommend an extension to the current ordinance, while the PSAC working group is, "tasked with conducting this review, and making recommendations to Council.”

Rumor has it, Kuykendall wants to replace the current ordinance with one that has teeth.

The Portland Business Alliance already heads up the flawed Real Change, Spare Change - a program that encourages people to give money to individual homeless agencies instead of panhandlers through a voucher program downtown.

While some will argue this is good process, the reality is the committee is lopsided in the favor of pro-business, and law enforcement. Only Sisters of the Road stands in the way of changing the minds of the PBA, multiple agencies, and the police bureau. And in a feel good town like Portland, that means the damage control patrol are swinging into full gear.

The mayor’s office is smart enough to know that while the committee may hold all the cards for the future of the ordinance, several attorney’s, and dozens of organizations locally, and nationally are keeping a watchful eye on the outcomes of the recommendations by the committee.

You can also check out an article on panhandling in Street Roots from June of 2004, PSAC, and Portland's Real Change, Spare Change program for more context.
  • Changin' Spangin'

  • PSAC

  • Real Change, Not Spare Change

    carlw said...

    Yoh rocket poet (space) dude. Why would I want you off my email list, you barely send me emails as it is? I'm hardly worried about you sending too many. On a different note, I get emails with all the "notes and minutes" from the "PSAC" meetings and I am fearful that the kids in control are yet again running amuck! Things are getting way out of hand. Business as usual, it seems at least once every year they start revising and pushing for anti homeless ordinances.

    Israel Bayer said...

    Yes, and from conversations I've had with people at City Hall - nobody wants this issue to get out of hand.

    Unfortunately, people are suggesting creating a obstruction as nuisance, or something like it city wide. Hawthorne, 82nd Ave, Alberta, etc.

    And if that happens you bet the PBA and others are going to jump on the train and preach that they not only have the interest of downtown in mind, they have the entire city of Portland at heart.

    I would like to see a poll done about people who actually live and work in downtown about safety. While I understand certain businesses may have complaints about panhandlers, etc. - I find it hard to believe the masses feel unsafe downtown due to panhandlers and homeless people. Portland is one of the safest cities in the country. How could people possibly feel afraid?

    Anonymous said...

    Boom, boom.

    Nice work, Israel.

    Jessie K. said...

    I've always enjoyed Portland, but now that I know how scary it is I don' t think I'll be able to leave my hotel next time I go, at least not without an armed male escort. I must not have noticed the terror of the downtown district last time I was there--how blind can I be?

    Jake said...

    Maybe we can live in a bubble, and call it Orlando!

    Israel Bayer said...

    I stand corrected. Sisters of the Road is not standing in the way of progress, but instead advocating for healthy outcomes - along with Street Roots, Copwatch, the Oregon Law Center, and many others.

    Israel Bayer said...

    That may have come out wrong, too. he! You know what I'm talking about. Geez-o-mezzo!

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