A vote for the disenfranchised

Last week, a small group of homeless people, dubbed the”Portland Riders,” went on a robbery rampage in Old Town and weresubsequently incarcerated.

Also last week, police began making sweeps of homelessencampments under some of our bridges on the east side and in NorthPortland.

What do these two events have in common? Well, besides the factthat they both projected Portland’s homeless population into theheadlines, the former type of story is just the validation forprejudice that leads to the type public policy enacted in thelatter.

As the rain starts and cold weather sets in, the country’shomeless population flows into the cities to try and hang on tosurvival for another season. If given any thought, this makes sense- camps under bridges offer protection from the elements, as wellas a kind of support community.

Unfortunately for these individuals and families, businessowners and shoppers from the suburbs feel these Portland residentsare both an obstruction to business and a public safetyconcern.

Long has the stereotype of a criminally crazed homeless manstruck fear into “upstanding” citizens and negative media attentionjust serves to reinforce that image.

In reality, homeless people are just people trying to survive ina world that is arguably more hostile to them than to any othergroup of people.

Fortunately, right now Portland has an extensive support systemfor the homeless. It’s by no means comprehensive or without flaws,but it has been given recognition on a national level, especiallythe programs for youth.

For example, there’s Outside In, a program that provideshealth and counseling services to homeless and low-incomeresidents. There’s Sisters of the Road, which provides meals andcommunity, and JOIN, which assists in homeless people’s transitioninto permanent housing. Sadly, these programs are stretched totheir limits already.

This is where you, the voters, come in.

Homeless people as a group can legitimately be calleddisenfranchised. Many homeless can claim no legal residency of anystate, due to constant moving, lack of registration andidentification, mail-in ballot systems, etc.

Right now Portland has two mayoral candidates with vastlydiffering views on addressing the issue of homelessness inPortland.

Jim Francesconi is an advocate of the aforementioned policesweeps. He also wants to “increase the number of police officers inthe gang unit and in the precincts.”

This seemingly harmless move takes on a new dimension when youconsider that Vera Katz has shifted the definition of “gang” toinclude the make-shift families formed by street kids downtown.This despite the fact that the number of crimes committed by streetkids is comparable to the number of crimes committed by bored kidswith homes.

As Phil Busse pointed out in an article this summer, New Avenuesfor Youth executive director Ken Cowdery claims the majority ofhomeless youth are not on the street but involved in variousprograms.

Francesconi’s proposals to create more affordable housing andfacilities for homeless are simply lip service to cover for hisdecidedly anti-homeless stance. Though it can take years totransition into permanent housing, Francesconi voted againstrenewing the lease of Dignity Village, ignoring the community andprotections it provides for homeless people, enabling them to helpthemselves.

Tom Potter, on the other hand has a history of being activelyinvolved with the homeless community, even organizing a work partyfor Dignity Village. He demonstrably recognizes the value andrights of these individuals as human beings and realizes that theonly way to solve this issue is to address the root causes.