By CORY ELIA
During a rainy, windy Thursday afternoon a group of around 30 to 40 people assembled in front of Portland‘s City Hall for a protest rally calling for the city to stop sweeping houseless encampments. The group states that the practice of sweeps is highly traumatizing to the houseless community which is already highly vulnerable.
According to a flyer handed out during the rally, there are several entities endorsing this movement including but not limited to: Street Roots, Portland Tenants United, Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter, Symbiosis PDX, and the medical clinic Outside In.
Sweeps are where work crews accompanied by officers go through heavily encamped areas and remove people’s belongings and tell people to move on. While advocates and the unhoused community call this practice “‘sweeps” the city refers to them as “clean-ups” and insists they are conducted in the most humane way possible.
However, reporting on the practice has shown that this is not entirely true. In an article for the Portland Mercury, it was shown how an incident involving a work crew running over a tent and injuring a women was attempted to be covered up.
In December of 2018, PSU’s monthly magazine The Pacific Sentinel reported on House Bill 4054 which is the inter-governmental agreement that gave the City of Portland authority to conduct the sweeps instead of Oregon Department of Treansportation. Since that time the amount of sweeps has increased and rampant misconduct and mistreatment of individuals on the street have been documented.
It has also been shown that personal and vital belongings have been taken during these sweeps and it is difficult to retrieve those items taken if an individual actually attempts to do so. This is due to flawed reporting practices from the work crews and a majority of items are thrown away.
Despite the City already spending around $2 million of taxpayer money contracting work crews there is a vote planned for January that would increase the amount spent on sweeps to around $4.5 million annually for five years. The City also expects with this annual increase for these work crews who have shown a history of misconduct and mistreatment of the houseless community to become outreach workers.
The demands by the Stop the Sweeps PDX group are a complete stop of the practice of sweeps in accordance with the 9th District Court decision of Martin v. Boise. That decision ruled it a violation of the 8th Amendment to conduct sweeps of houseless individuals when there aren’t sufficient shelter beds provided by the city. Since that court decision, it seem the City of Portland has actually been conducting sweeps unconstitutionally.
Just this week, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the District Court ruling to stand, and that was seen a victory by many unhoused advocates.
The group further demands a stop to seizures of personal belongings during sweeps and for City officials to attend a series of public hearings and community-led listening sessions about the practice to be held by the group. Members of the group and houseless individuals took turns speaking in front of City Hall. Videos of those speeches provided above.
According to the group, there are several ways for concerned citizens to get involved with the movement. Writing and emailing City officials is one way they suggested— but attending future events is another way to show support.
A vigil for houseless people who’ve passed over the last year is planned for 3 pm Saturday, December 21, at Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. The event is called the Longest Night Homeless Memorial.
Stop the Sweeps PDX is working with the Western Regional Advocacy Project on this campaign and more information can be found on wraphome.org.
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.
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