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The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of Equity and Human Rights

Realizing Equity. Enhancing the City of Portland.

Phone: 503-823-4433

Fax: 503-823-4420

421 SW 6th Avenue, Suite 500, Portland, OR 97204

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Sidewalk Management Ordinance Citation Review


Sidewalk Management Ordinance Citation Review

October 6, 2010

Dear Commissioner Fritz,

Thank you for your request to provide you and City Council with the Human Rights Commission's perspective on the Sidewalk Ordinance Citation data that the Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Committee (SPSAC) recently reviewed.

As you know, the Human Rights Commission advised City Council this past May that we opposed the passage of the Sidewalk Management Ordinance on human rights grounds. Our review of the data does not change this position. We remain concerned that the City has passed and begun to enforce an ordinance that infringes upon the universal right to be free from discrimination, and the right to rest and leisure (Articles 2 and 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

The data on citations highlights a disproportionate impact of enforcement on individuals who are homeless, specifically young men. The data also points to a possible racial disparity: 14% of this summer's citations were issued to African Americans.

Meanwhile, Portland’s homeless population is rapidly growing – Multnomah County Health and Human Service’s annual count of homeless individuals shows that from 1995, when the one-night shelter count was first done, to 2010, the number of families in the count increased by 164% and the number of individuals by 195%. Please note in the September 2010 enforcement data, that 73% of the people the police interacted with gave no mailing address. Homeless advocates at the SPSAC and in other forums have noted that of this growing population, a significant percentage suffer from problems related to mental illness.

City Council and the County expend considerable funds and direct programs to address many issues related to homeless populations on Portland's streets. Still, shelters are over-crowded. We do not have enough shelter in the downtown area that can be accessed during the day. As the weather deteriorates in the coming months, we anticipate that police requests for individuals on the street to move to the curb are likely to be met with greater resistance. Absent the necessary resources to provide safe and warm places to rest, police will be in the predicament of having to enforce a policy that has an inhumane impact on vulnerable members of our community.

While the ordinance exempts people with disabilities from enforcement, the police acknowledge that the only way this exemption can be applied is when a person is clearly incapacitated -- totally unable to understand police requests.

Enforcement data does not acknowledge the “invisible” nature of severe depression, malnutrition, sleep deprivation or other physical and mental health problems resulting from inadequate health care and hopelessness. This is the reality for many people without homes to go to. Ironically, while the ordinance seeks to provide improved access to city streets and services to people with disabilities, it negatively impacts people with “invisible” disabilities.

The human experience on Portland’s streets is complex. We understand Council’s dilemmas concerning how we share our public spaces. We too want sidewalks to be safe. In our view, the Sidewalk Management Ordinance brings an arbitrary hammer to enforcing these goals. The policy essentially says, “Sit here, but not two inches further over there.” The enforcement impact of this ordinance is inequitable. It violates international human rights standards. We urge you to address these issues.

We wish to acknowledge two positives in process. The first is your leadership in continuing the dialogue on this issue in the SPSAC. The second is the responsive role of the Police Bureau representatives to the SPSAC. They have been cooperative with the work of recording data and reporting back to the SPSAC when some aspects of the data did not conform to what the SPSAC requested. They are witnesses to the complexity of enforcing this ordinance and the limitations on policing courtesy and respect for all human beings.

We also acknowledge the “heat” in this issue between various stakeholders in the process. If we can facilitate dialogues between stakeholder groups, we are available to do so.


Portland Human Rights Commissioners

Donita Fry, Chair
Arwen Bird
Anastasia Godsey
Moloy K. Good
Emily G. Gottfried
Tricia Knoll
Allan Lazo
Rev. Héctor López
Abdul Majidi
Charlene A. McGee
David Martínez
Donna D. Maxey
Kathleen Saadat
Edmund Sherman
Damon Isiah Turner