GRESHAM, Ore. (KOIN) — A group of 7 protesters appeared in court Wednesday, just one day after they were arrested for disorderly conduct during a Gresham City Council meeting.
The 7 arrested protesters were part of a group of 20 who spoke out against the city’s treatment of its homeless population. They are upset by the city manager’s decision to close a 60-acre portion of the Springwater Trail in an effort to force homeless campers out.
“I really would like my voice to be heard for the people who can’t speak,” Melanie Rosenthal, one of 7 people arrested, told KOIN 6 News. “It was totally worth it.”
Rosenthal, who is homeless, used to live in an area near Gresham Woods and the Springwater Trail before it was fenced off by the city for environmental reasons.
She and several others say they feel the city is treating them unfairly. They feel there is no place for homeless people to go or seek services in Gresham.
“The city seems to think it doesn’t have any resources to help the homeless, but they can silence our voices with an overwhelming number of resources,” arrested protester Chris Cozzetto said. “The homeless have not been invited to the table, and the City of Gresham fast-tracked some… changes to fence off areas.”
City Councilor Karylinn Echols says she disagrees, and that members of the homeless population were invited to meet with the city on Friday, but they did not respond. She also says protesters were given ample time to speak during a public comment period.
“The work that was done last night was really just code cleanup, it was language cleanup,” Echols said. “You’ll see that’s really what it was, nothing was fast-tracked.”
The council briefly adjourned in an attempt to quiet the protesters on Tuesday night, but when that didn’t work, they called in police to clear the room.
When asked if the arrests were too heavy handed, Echols said, “we represent 110,000 people, we had the city’s business to conduct.”
Still, those involved say the city’s actions violated their freedom of speech and its show of force was described as overkill and an “extreme use of force”.