A date and location has been found for a town hall meeting about the Montavilla Neighborhood Association’s resolution asking the City of Portland to end homeless camp sweeps.
The meeting will be held on Saturday, July 29th from 10 am to noon at Montavilla UMC (232 SE 80th Ave), said Jonnie Shaver, chair of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association.
There will be a facilitator from Resolutions Northwest, a non-profit that promotes “dialogue to solve conflict and advance racial and social justice”, and a presentation from a panel, Shaver said. Other other details are still being firmed up.
The MNA resolution was announced June 20, and about a week later a group of neighbors posted an online petition rejecting the resolution. As of Thursday 156, have signed the petition. The MNA responded with a detailed set of FAQs on the resolution and agreed to host a town hall meeting on the issue.
MNA sweeps resolution
The Resolution Against Homeless Camps Sweeps resolution said that the sweeps are an ineffective waste of taxpayer dollars that probably are unconstitutional.
“Whether or not rights are violated, the sweeps are inhumane and do not result in positive outcomes for the homeless or for adjacent housed residents as the camps almost always return days, weeks, or months later or migrate to another neighborhood becoming another neighborhood’s problem.”
The funds used for sweeps would be better used to create long-term solutions, the 11-member board concluded.
According to the FAQs, the MNA board said neighbors should “try to dialogue with camp residents and make an attempt at a positive relationship with them” and contact the City if there’s an issue with trash. The MNA board is working on helping the homeless and the impact of their camping. More details on how to get involved are later in the story.
Both sides acknowledge that the city will continue to follow up on citizen complaints about homeless camps. In a Portland Tribune story, City officials argue that the term “sweeps” isn’t accurate, and they have to follow rules stemming from a 2012 court ruling called the Anderson agreement.
Petition against sweeps ban
Jeff Church wrote the first draft of the petition criticizing the MNA resolution. Church works in Southeast industrial district near the Morrison Bridge, and lives just outside the Montavilla boundaries.
He said he has seen a lot of problems where he works like thefts, assaults, vandalism, and fires that he associates with homeless camps in the area. It has gotten better since Hales reversed his six-month experiment allowing camping in the City.
Church said he’s all for helping people, but thinks the current system is just enabling people who are homeless.
“It’s not compassionate to let them remain in that situation,” Church said. “There are other options than letting them do whatever they want.”
He said a group of about ten neighbors thinks that the resolution wasn’t based on consensus and didn’t have proper neighborhood involvement. The petition also states that the sweeps aren’t supposed to “fix the homeless problem. They were created to solve issues of public nuisance, health and safety.”
Church said he doesn’t expect much out of the town hall, and isn’t sure he’ll even be let inside because he doesn’t live in the neighborhood. He said he expects it to be stacked with people who already agree with the board and that anybody else will be shouted down.
Eight of ten of the people that organized the petition live in neighborhood, and the others are just over the border. The petition’s first draft was written by him because some of the other people against the MNA resolution were frightened that there would be reprisals if they put their name on it. “They didn’t want to be marked,” he said.
He said he had already been banned from the MNA Facebook Group, so he had nothing to lose. He thinks there’s an authoritarian attitude and intolerance to dissenting opinions on the MNA FB Group, and the way sweeps resolution was decided is a continuation of that trend.
The FB Group ban happened when he gave historical context to a conversation about Japanese internment camps. His comment was called racist, and since he he was banned immediately he wasn’t able to defend the statement or add context. Being removed from the FB group is a “bummer” because it’s the best way to learn about what’s going on with the neighborhood, he said.
Church said he doesn’t think people join a board to push an agenda, they do it to help the community. It makes sense, in his opinion, if the board works on street fairs or host warming shelters, but he said he thinks the sweeps resolution was overreach.
There was one board member who didn’t vote for the resolution, who is a friend, Church said. The dissenting board member told Church that he warned them that there would be criticism from the neighborhood.
Resolution blow back
Shaver said he absolutely got on the MNA board to work on homeless issues, because they weren’t being addressed on a neighborhood level. He volunteers for several different organizations, and while the City says a board position should occupy six to ten hours a month, he devotes about 40 hours a month to MNA work.
In an interview on July 4th, Shaver said he didn’t expect resolution to be so controversial.
Somebody showed up uninvited at a board member’s house, he said, there has been anger and threats, and he said she is worried about more reprisal right now. He didn’t want to specify who received the visit or discuss any other details of that incident.
In light of the criticism, I asked him if she would have done anything differently.
“The [neighborhood association meeting] agenda could have been more clear, otherwise it’s [the resolution] in line with work we have already been doing.”
On the question of buy in, he said the board made their decision based on research, and did get buy in from some neighbors and organizations like JOIN and Rahab Sisters (where he volunteers), organizations that are experienced in serving homeless populations. He said the criticism has come from only a small group of people.
I asked her if he learned anything from his volunteer work, and the sweeps resolution.
“Not all neighbors agree all the time…” He paused. “It’s a difficult time right now, we’re getting threats, and a lot of aggressive hostile attention. It’s abnormal for how the board functions, most of time people ignore us and let us do our work.”
The MNA has a Housing & Homeless Committee that meets once a month, with about ten people at each meeting, Shaver said. For more information contact: housing-homelessness [at] montavillapdx.org.
The committee ran a warming shelter for four days during the snowy months this winter, and Shaver said he gives out food regularly. In the works is a plan to work with Multnomah County to deal with sharps, based on neighbors’ concerns. They also want to make more public toilets available, mapping the charity resources in the neighborhood, and start a food share program.