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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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Letter to City Council

Dear Commissioners:

The Portland Human Rights Commission (HRC) supports the move of the Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) rest stop to Lot 7 in the Pearl District. Our support is based not only on the City’s land-use review but also rooted in the HRC’s focus on supporting the human rights of all individuals in our community. The work of R2DToo and the Dreamers has helped 50-100 individuals experiencing homelessness create a self-directed solution providing a safe place to rest that is not on the sidewalk, in a park, or in a doorway.

Further, we support your effort to repair the city’s relationship with R2DToo by ending the group’s lawsuit against the city and waiving the more than $20,000 in fines levied against the current property owner. Neither of these actions served to create a sustainable relationship between R2DToo and the city.

We recognize the matter before the Council involves a land-use decision, but we urge those involved to seize this opportunity for our community to engage in a conversation about the needs of those experiencing homelessness.

As Israel Bayer, executive director of Street Roots, notes in his September 18th column, “The measure of whether the Pearl District Neighborhood Association is right or wrong on their rebuke of R2DToo will not be determined by the outcome of the lawsuit...The judgment lies in the neighborhood's actions, responding out of the gate with a stereotypical fear of the homeless that stifles both dialogue and opportunity across the board.”

That stereotypical fear often centers on safety and livability issues, and these issues too often have been intertwined in the news lately with the sweeps of sidewalk and other camps. We believe these are two separate issues that call for two distinct solutions. Homelessness does not equal lawlessness, and we should not allow the unfounded fears of one determine the solutions to the other.

As Commissioner Fritz notes in her August response to a Pearl District neighbor: “There have been zero calls for police service to that site in 2013. Nearby property owners report decrease in crime, and fewer people sleeping in doorways because there is a safe place for people to sleep. Right to Dream Too has a drug-free, alcohol-free policy that is enforced by the residents.”

And Bayer confirms this again in his September 18th column: “The Portland Police Bureau’s spokesman Pete Simpson told me recently, ‘Central Precinct officers report that R2DToo has not been a problem for police as it seems self-managed.’”

Even among critics, there isn’t agreement on just what the problem is with locating R2DToo in the neighborhood.

The Portland Business Alliance has criticized the move by arguing that "the practice degrades property values in the vicinity, impacting the investments that individuals and businesses have made with the expectation that the city will faithfully enforce its rules."  “Under Familiar Stars,” Portland Mercury, Sept. 25, 2013.

By contrast, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association urges its members to "remember that the issue is not about property values, it's about the city's violation of our trust and its own integrity."

Another criticism brought forth by the neighborhood is that the city should seek long-term solutions and not simply shuttle campers under the bridge. No one is arguing that long-term permanent solutions to ending homelessness are not needed -- but this short-term compromise allows the city and R2DToo to provide a solution that helps those in need today.

We recognize this short-term solution is not ideal, but repairing the city’s relationship with R2DToo can be one step toward reaching tangible long-term solutions to providing viable assistance to those experiencing homelessness. The questions that we must return to are where will resources come from and when will they come for those long-term solutions? Those solutions are coming too few and too far between for the thousands left to survive nightly on our city’s streets.

Solutions similar to the R2DToo rest stop currently exist or are being tried in Portland and other communities: Dignity Village exists as a similar solution, and the City of Eugene last week passed an ordinance allowing trial for homeless camps.

In reality, the conversation must be about how we as a community will deal with the issue of homelessness. But as Bayer notes, we have lost this opportunity for a civil dialogue about community-wide solutions to ending homelessness.

Instead, that dialogue has been replaced by a dispute involving developers and land-use attorneys, and discourse that does little but further marginalize the actual needs of those experiencing homelessness.

The Right 2 Dream Too rest stop is a solution that was created by and for those experiencing homelessness; one that has been working for up to 100 individuals otherwise experiencing homelessness nightly for the past two years; and one that seems to be enduring without rampant “lawlessness” at its doors. As a community, we need to listen to and support the solutions being proposed.

Respectfully Yours,

Kyle Busse

Chair, Portland Human Rights Commission