City Hall campers want city to provide space

7-22-13-sidewalk use
Campers across from Portland City Hall, July 22, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the Friday deadline in place to evict the campers from in front of Portland City Hall, Mayor Charlie Hales told KOIN 6 News he will use zoning laws to expedite the process of clearing the sidewalks.

“There are a wide variety of people out there on the street,” he said. “People having sex on the sidewalks … that is not OK.”

The mayor declared SW 4th Avenue between Madison and Jefferson as a high pedestrian zone. This means the two blocks around city hall are now officially for pedestrian traffic only, where people can no longer sit or lie on the sidewalk for long periods of time.

“What that means is you can go there, you can get a cup of coffee, you can meet one of your mates, you can do whatever business you need to do,” said a city spokesperson, “but you can’t lay down a sleeping bag and camp there.”

By later this week, the sidewalks are expected to be power-washed and the campers are expected to be gone — for good.

“People feel intimidated, where we’ve had 113 calls for service in the last six months,” Hales said. “So we’re going to invoke the authority of the city under our sidewalk management ordinance.

On Monday morning, homeless protesters tried to confront some of the mayor’s staff, but mayoral spokesperson Dana Haynes said, “Enough is enough. It’s the people’s building.”

For months, the number of homeless people camping along SW 4th Avenue rose dramatically, as did the complaints that poured into the offices of the mayor and the police chief.

“There were calls from people who said they were being harassed. There were calls about drug abuse, there were calls about fights,” spokesperson Haynes said.

The people who call the sidewalks their home said the city isn’t doing enough to help them, either with a place to live or dealing with their mental health issues.

“We ask that the city provide a space that we can utilize to give homeless people a safe place to sleep,” one man said.

One camper who spoke with KOIN 6 News said she’s planning to stay even under the threat of being arrested. But she hopes it won’t come to that.

“I don’t want to be arrested again,” she said. “Been there, done that. It’s not helping, it’s not making a difference.”

Most, however, said they will just go to another location when officers tell them to leave before the sidewalks are washed down on Tuesday.

The mayor’s office said things are so bad something had to change.

“There are 600,000 people living in Portland,” Haynes said. “Thirty or 40 people cannot decide that they cannot use City Hall.”

But for campers such as J.J. Bailey, “public use” means something personal: “Come on, bring it on brother,” Bailey said to KOIN 6 News’ camera. “We’ll come back.”

— KOIN 6 News reporters Carla Castano and Brent Weisberg contributed to this report.

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