Does Portland really need more homeless rules?

By Israel Bayer, who lives in both Seattle and Portland. He is the former Director of Street Roots in Portland. He also blogs at Rocket Poetry. Previously, he contributed "Getting Proactive about Homelessness"

As reported by Portland Transport, and Mercury Blog Town, the mayor announced has a new committee called Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) to look at "solutions" to "street disorder" in Portland.

I'm pleased to announce the Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) Initiative. At next week's Council session, I'll be introducing a resolution to find citywide solutions to the issues of street disorder and sidewalk nuisances.

I've been hearing concerns from the business community and residents-downtown and in other neighborhoods-about street disorder: things occurring in our business districts like aggressive panhandling, public drinking, intimidation or harassment, and sidewalk obstruction. ...

I'm particularly interested in solutions which will get to the root of the problem of street disorder by focusing on community-driven prevention and intervention efforts strategies like neighborhood action plans, partnerships with the police, and basic amenities like public restrooms.

The announcement comes less than a month before the controversial "obstruction as nuisance" (sit/lie) ordinance is set to sunset (June 15), and nearly two weeks after the Portland Business Alliance requested (May 1) a six-month extension on the law. The ordinance makes it illegal to sit, or lie down on certain public sidewalks downtown. The law mostly targets the city's homeless population.

On one hand, the business community (mostly the Portland Business Alliance), and some neighborhood advocates argue that we have an increasing number of public safety issue on city sidewalks.

On the other hand, poverty activists, and others, including myself argue that it's overblown, and sidewalk activity is just fine.

Can we as a community welcome a healthy urban environment without creating more policy around this issue, or is it really that bad?

guest column

connect with blueoregon