Programs to drive the homeless population out of the city and exclude them from certain areas create unnecessary civil rights violations and should be eliminated. Political crimes against the homeless, which affect civil rights, in turn affect citizens.
Homelessness is a difficult issue to tackle. The homeless often fall victim to the stereotypes of drug addiction, mental illness and urban kids running away from their rich parents. However, the high unemployment rate, ranging from 5.5 percent to 8 percent, demonstrates the difficulty of getting a job in the city. Homeless persons face a different type of difficulty in obtaining a job. Most businesses in Portland require a resume that includes an address or phone number. If there isn’t a phone number, being called for an interview is unlikely. Therefore, the cycle continues.
Portland is reputed to be a liberal city in many respects, due in part to the short-lived recognition of same-sex marriage, the death with dignity act and environmental ideals. However, treatment of the homeless in the city shows our conservative stripes.
A civil rights violation is found in PSF-2.06, Portland’s Drug Free Zone Ordinance. This is a program that targets drug users in so-called problem areas. The ordinance allows police to search suspected drug users in the locations designated as drug-free zones. Other cities utilize the program, but Portland was the first to implement it.
The Drug-Free Zones Ordinance states that if a person is found with drugs in a specified area, they will be excluded from that area for a specific time period, ranging from a few months to a year. The person facing exclusion then has five days to appeal the decision.
These types of violations are known throughout the country. Although many U.S. cities formed drug-free zones, they made sure to ensure Due Process to the offenders. Unlike Portland, other cities with drug-free zones require more evidence to prosecute the so-called criminals and carefully scrutinize the criminal report.
The zones blatantly discriminate against certain classes and races. The reason why homeless drug users are using on the streets because they have no other place to use. It is an issue of quality of life. Mayor Tom Potter admitted that there are a small amount of citizens who are committing the majority of crime in the downtown area. Why should all citizens then suffer the paranoia of constant security surveillance as a result?
Portland police are only supposed to target suspected drug users. What constitutes a suspected drug user? I know from past personal experience that the homeless are not the only ones using illicit drugs.
Other programs targeting the homeless are also infringing on the civil rights of PSU students. Mayor Potter passed an ordinance in October to mandate a 9 p.m. curfew in the South Park Blocks from Salmon to Market streets. This curfew doesn’t ban anyone from entering the South Park Blocks after that time, but it prohibits loitering.
The South Park Blocks are extremely close to the PSU campus and a pleasant place for a leisurely break, even at night. Civil rights are violated for those who want a leisurely nighttime break, as well as the homeless.
I hope that someday Portland will be recognized for our cutting-edge policies toward civil rights, not for discriminatory rules and regulations.