Questions for the ‘sit-lie’ ordinance

Despite a common consensus that the Downtown “Sit-Lie” Ordinance, designed to curb aggressive panhandling and intimidation, is an abject failure, it looks as if the law is getting a second chance. Set to expire next month, Tom Potter, with an apparent push from the Portland Business Alliance, has given the ordinance a stay of execution, along with a promise to create a special committee to formulate an alternative. I asked the beleaguered ordinance some questions recently and came up with some answers that really hit home.

So, apparently you’re ineffective –

So they say, but I’ve prompted five citations in the last 18 or so months, and that seems pretty good to me.

And only you.

Yeah, I’m just kidding. I’m totally useless. The idea is that you can’t sit or stay in certain parts of downtown. But what am I supposed to do? Most shelters turn people away at 7 a.m. It’s kind of tough to enforce me when people have no alternative. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled it was illegal for cities with more homeless than shelter space to enforce laws like me, so it’s a sticky issue.

Are there more homeless in Portland than shelter space?

You’re joking right? According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development there are 5,100 homeless people in Portland, with 1,500 or so concentrated downtown. It’s impossible to keep accurate numbers on a transient population. But compare that to the 700 or so shelter beds active at any given time and you’ve got more than a minor disparity.

What are Potter’s options then? Making you a tougher law? Maybe like the ones in Seattle?

The problem with any sit-lie-type ordinance is that its only real purpose is keeping up appearances. Laws like me are meant to placate businesspeople and shoppers in the downtown district. I don’t solve the problem, I just hide it from those who find it distasteful or threatening. Hobo teens are scary, especially if you just want to shop at Nordstrom’s and sip appletinis. Portland’s homeless issue ruins some people’s idyllic view of downtown. Crime is low in downtown, and supposedly dropping.
That helps people feel “safe,” but how about “warm” or “viable”?

What about programs like San Francisco’s “Homeward Bound”? Is that a feasible option for Portland?

You mean Gavin Newsome’s answer to homelessness? Give them a one-way bus ticket out of town? That’s just displacement. It’s another way of not addressing the problem.

But in many cases people have families that can house them, but it’s too difficult to make the journey home. Doesn’t a free bus ticket seem like a good way to reunite these people with their loved ones?

And maybe some of them are orphans with hearts of gold, just needing a home to call their own so they can teach communities to love again! Or they have amnesia and just need that special someone to reunite them with the life they left behind? Who cares? You’re talking made-for-TV scenarios. Things aren’t that simple and that’s not the problem. A blanket and a bowl of soup help, but it’s like a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. And bus tickets and citations are just marginalizing.

So what’s the cure then?

Um – houses? Duh. More effective transitional housing. More low-income housing. More training and rehab programs. The city needs to address and invest some real money in the marginalized poor. They give tax breaks to developers for including low-income housing in their $500,000-a-piece condo projects. But very little of that is surfacing. And most of it is still expensive if you have no functional income. Rehabilitation and start-ups are not going to fix the problem, but giving people options is a hell of a lot better than giving them tickets, wouldn’t you say?

Looks like I don’t have to.