Portland residents form petition demanding new approach to houselessness

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A small houseless camp on NW 6th Avenue in downtown Portland in front of Sisters of the Road Cafe. Portland State Vanguard/Brian McGloin

Earlier this summer, Elliott Young, a history professor at Lewis & Clark College, started a petition addressed to Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioners Chloe Eudaly, Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman: “Petition for City of Portland to Adopt a Compassionate Response to Homelessness.”  

Citing a June 2018 report by The Oregonian which found houseless people accounted for 52 percent of arrests made by the Portland Police Bureau in 2017—despite comprising less than three percent of the city’s population—the petition’s sponsors demand the Mayor and City Council end what they call the targeting of houseless people by the police, allow houseless camps to regulate themselves and reduce PPB’s size in order to redirect funds into transitional and permanent housing as well as mental health and addiction services.

“Although there are some modest efforts by the city to direct homeless people to social services, all of those involve the police as the first responders,” Young said. “Sending armed police officers to sweep homeless encampments and search for outstanding warrants is a recipe for a houseless person to get hurt or killed…Let’s use some of the more than $220 million in the police budget that is currently being used to arrest and jail homeless individuals and actually provide help to our marginalized neighbors.”

Other groups sponsoring the petition include the Portland Civil Rights Law Office, Democratic Socialists of America’s Portland chapter, Don’t Shoot PDX, Village of Hope, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Street Roots Vendor Political Engagement Committee and Portland National Lawyers Guild. The petition has also been endorsed by mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford and City Council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty.

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