Recent thefts in Smith Memorial Student Union have created safety concerns for the Portland State community. Affected areas include the Disability Resource Center and the Associated Students of Portland State University, both located on the ground floor of SMSU.
According to Lieutenant Vince Elmore of the Campus Public Safety Office, 36 theft incidents occured in SMSU since the beginning of 2017. On Jan. 10, 2018, the ASPSU office was broken into after business hours, and a projector and camera were stolen. ASPSU University Affairs Committee Director Lelani Lealiiee stated in an email, “We are usually all diligent in locking the office, but [we] are unsure whether or not it was locked at the time of the break-in.”
Lealiiee added the DRC also reported a theft earlier in the winter 2018 quarter. “[The theft] was during open hours,” she stated. “Someone walked into their lab and must have walked out with one of their [Macintosh] computers without being noticed.”
The ASPSU office sits almost adjacent to the main SMSU entrance on Broadway Blvd. SMSU is open to the public until 10 p.m. most days. Some houseless individuals and other non-students occasionally enter SMSU and other buildings and are sometimes found sleeping in classrooms or other locations.
At a UAC meeting on Feb. 7 during which the committee addressed safety concerns following the thefts, Lealiiee said, “We would like to see more safety but without looking to discourage or mistreat the houseless population.” She added, “We do not want the houseless population to feel they are being singled out but would just like some more safety here due to childcare centers, resource centers, and of course, this being a large student union.”
Houselessness continues to be an issue in Portland due to a lack of affordable housing throughout the state. However, Lealiiee emphasized no one can prove there is a direct association between the theft incidents and the presence of houseless individuals.
“It would be unjust and against our values at ASPSU, and as students without solid evidence to say there is a connection,” Lealiiee wrote.
Elmore said because the university is an urban campus and open to the public, CPSO does not ask houseless individuals to leave buildings if they are not harassing anyone. He also added that if students feel unsafe or suspect a crime, then they should contact the CPSO office. “We are here to make students safe,” Elmore said.
PSU biology major Aaron Tait said he is comfortable saying the campus is safe. “The occasional patrol is constant enough to assure accessibility to help when it is needed,” Tait wrote in an email.
Tait added he is aware of houseless shelters around the city, but he also acknowledges forcing people to go to them is impossible. “While I don’t like having a group of houseless people immediately outside some living quarters and school buildings,” Tait wrote, “I recognize there may not be a place we can send them.”
On the other hand, Lealiiee said she does not at all see an issue with houseless persons in SMSU. In addition, she added, the PSU community should show compassion toward the houseless population.
“As a university located in downtown Portland, [ASPSU members believe] it is important to recognize houseless persons as members of our community,” Lealiiee stated. “[It is important to] reflect our values with everyone located around our campus.”
According to Lealiiee, the UAC is working toward strategies to help houseless individuals feel more welcomed on campus, but also to help students feel safe. The committee is putting together a survey to gather feedback from students and staff about how they feel about the presence of houseless persons on campus. Lealiiee wrote the UAC believes it is critical to see everyone’s viewpoints on the issue.
“The reality is some students are or could be facing being houseless, and we want to approach this topic in a compassionate way,” Lealiiee added.