On May 23rd, the Portland Mercury posted an article announcing that the Mayor Charlie Hales ordered the Portland Police Department to begin the most intensive sweeps of the city’s houseless people and their belongings in years. Portland gets many tourists in the summer, especially during the Rose Festival and Rose Parade. Mayor Hales did not want one of the largest homeless populations in the country visible during Portland’s time to shine. In response to the crackdown on “entrenched camps,” the Portland Anarchist Black Cross, Multnomah County Cop Watch, Right to Survive, and Don’t Shoot Portland sponsored a campaign called Fight the Sweeps. This on-going campaign provides houseless individuals with the phone number 971-533-8210 to call if the police are forcing them to move from their camping spots. Individuals who text @fightthesweeps to 23559 will be added to a text alert system, informing them when and where the police are sweeping. Those who receive these text alerts are encouraged to meet the cops at this location and film them to ensure that they gave campers a 24 hour eviction notice and are treating them with respect.
In addition to the alert component of the campaign, individuals have been meeting in inner SE, where the heaviest sweeps are occurring, and visiting campsites near SE Water Ave. and SE 3rd Ave. During the campsite visits, these individuals gather information from those affected by police visits and frequently film police activity.
Here is a brief summary of what we have learned from video footage and homeless folks’ first-hand accounts. The police created a special unit just to carry out the sweeps. Its officers ride official police ATVs so they can drive into areas inaccessible by vehicle and possibly ambush campsites or appear less intimidating. Other officers park police SUVs a few blocks away or regularly drive by in unmarked vehicles. JOIN, a non-profit organization that helps provide housing for select houseless people, has a member of the Portland Police Bureau on their Board of Directors. They have been kept up to speed on all of the sweep times and locations targeted, but have felt no need to visit camps and warn anyone or find out how individuals are doing.
The police say they are helping people get hooked up with social services, which involves handing them a small slip of paper with several services listed. Many of these services are only for young people or single people and do not allow pets or many belongings, which is not helpful to the many houseless people who are older, have a partner, and possess dogs or many valuable items they do not wish to dispose of in order to stay in a crowded, prison-like shelter for one night. Often these shelters have long waiting lists for a bed, rampant theft, and strict rules. Many people would rather remain outside, especially with the weather turning warmer. As far as more permanent housing—there are few options and eligibility is limited. The city claimed that during the sweeps cops would be accompanied by social workers to plug people into social services; however, From on the ground observations and conversations with houseless folks these street outreach social workers from organizations like Join were nowhere to be seen; however, members of fight the sweeps were able to assist many homeless youth in findings shelters and assisting them with building resumes for job searching.
When asked how the sweeps are helping to address homelessness, one officer responded, “We are directing them to services. Why do you think there are so many homeless people? It is because we have so many services here.” This is a popular myth because it is an easy way for the city officials and the police to make the paradoxical argument that so many people are without housing in the city because we are so good at helping them. The facts tell a different story. Surveys of the houseless community show that three quarters of them were born and raised here or lived in Oregon for many years before they lost their housing. A Native man who frequently camps in inner SE said, “This is our land, why can’t they just leave us alone. They arrested me right next to Tilikum Street, which is a beautiful Chinook word meaning people, tribe, family, community. I just got out of jail six days ago. I’m not doing anything to them, why do they keep trying to fight me?”
When a cop watcher asked a cop why the city is doing this, the officer said, “We are responding to complaints from members of the community.” He pointed to a white older man. “See this is one of those community members right here.” The man said, “I just don’t want to see them and I don’t want young kids to see them. It upsets families.” Many houseless folks and advocates feel that the city has designated people with money as “community members” and people without money as an eye sore. Many houseless people recounted watching police clear out these “eye sores” during the Starlight Parade on May 30th to make room for “real” community members to set up their city-approved folding chairs and coolers for the evening. The phrase “houseless not heartless” has been painted near many campsites.
Another peculiar thing the police did on June 1st, seemingly in response to the Fight the Sweeps campaign, was to pass an executive order that revised Directive 312.5 regarding identification. The main additions to the Directive are as follows: “The Portland Police Bureau is committed to a relationship-based style of policing that promotes positive community relations… Members are required to document identification requirements, requests, and refusals in an appropriate police report.”
While the original Directive seems to be only concerned with providing safeguards against those impersonating a police officer, these revisions introduce the idea of “relationship-based” policing. Since people are now policing the police more frequently, cops must appear open to public feedback. After they appear open to scrutiny by cop watchers, they are told to document “identification requirements, requests, and refusals in an appropriate police report.” “Requests” is the key word here because it means that officers must write about the requests for identification they receive. Many participants in the Fight the Sweeps campaign have asked for officers’ business cards and the cops want to know who these troublemakers are. It seems the cops are now ordered to find out as much as they can about the person requesting their identification during the sweeps so they can add it to the file marked “potential threats to the government.”
Although cop watching is not preventing the sweeps from occurring, there have been some changes to the police department’s approach since the houseless defense campaign began. Initially, officers did not follow the law requiring a 24 hour eviction notice to remove campers and attempted to intimidate people into moving immediately. It wasn’t until they were held accountable by those cop watching that the police regularly started giving the 24 hour notice. One active participant in the houseless defense Campaign, who was formerly homeless himself, said a pregnant houseless woman he knows described being violently thrown to the ground and tackled by police who insisted she had previously given them a fake ID when in fact they had confused her with someone else. This occurred at the very beginning of the sweeps before people started filming police interactions with campers. Since then, there has been less physical violence and rights violations enacted by police officers.
After observing the inmate work crews, who are forced to clean up the remnants of swept campsites, wearing work gloves that were too thin prevent punctures from needles or other sharp objects, a member of Multnomah County Cop Watch filed an OSHA complaint. The work crews were seen on Tuesday wearing slighter better gloves. However, as soon as the Corrections Officers recognize Fight the Sweeps participants approaching, they immediately load up the inmates and drive away.
Also helping to “clean up” the camps of houseless individuals is a private company the city hired called “Positive Action Cleaning.” This company is owned by a man named Alan Pendergrass, who is a former Josephine County Undersheriff. One cop watcher filmed Positive Action Cleaning rifling through personal belongings temporarily left at a campsite. When he asked the Positive Action Cleaning employee if he was a cop, he responded no. “Why are you going through someone’s personal belongings then? Who do you work for?” A cop nearby said, “You are interfering with our job here.” The cop watcher explained that he was not interfering, but simply asking why a privately contracted employee had such authority and said, “You better be tagging each item so that these people can get their stuff back.” After several people gathered to help film Positive Action Cleaning in action, the employees began putting tags on the items.
Recently, the city has been able to afford a private homeless clean-up company, special police ATFs, and overtime for police in the sweeps unit. Over the years the city has spent $58.4 million on the Wapato Jail, which was never used and sits vacant, $132.8 million on the essentially useless Portland Streetcar and OHSU tram, and $31 million to renovate The Timbers’ stadium, Providence Park. Not to mention the approximately $3 billion per year Oregon spends on imprisoning its people, sixty percent of whom are serving a mandatory minimum sentence dictated by life-destroying measure 11. However, the city simply cannot afford to provide basic amenities to all human beings here. Plus, from way up in the aerial tram, the city is so picturesque and you really can’t see the poor people.
So where are folks going after the police tell them to move? Many of them are hearing from other houseless people or officers playing the “good cop” role that they should set up camp on a small area with a parking lot and grassy section on the corner of 3rd and Harrison. The number of tents there since the sweeps began has at least quadrupled. A woman who lives in a camper van in the parking lot frequently calls the Fight the Sweeps support line to report that the cops continue to harass everyone there, but have not forced them to leave. She said that the police and ODOT are continually driving by taking pictures. “How would they feel if I went to where they live and took pictures of their personal property? I’ve just about had it with these patrols.”
The eviction notice on the lot, which was a 7 day notice rather than 24 hours, expired June 4. At least a dozen cops arrived at 8am on the 4th and began posting 24 hour eviction notices near all surrounding campsites and around the more populated camping area with yellow police tape. Many campers felt angry and exasperated because officers had directed them to the 3rd and Harrison location. Some members of the police department were opening tents and threatening the campers, while others told them they really had until Monday to pack up or that they could continue camping on a thin section of land. This created widespread confusion among everyone there. Currently, nobody is sure if they really have to leave, who actually owns the land, or what it will be used for in the future.
On June 5th the Portland police arrived around 8am to the large campsite around 3rd and Harrison. Due to police directing houseless folks here the campsite quadrupled in numbers. In one fell swoop the police arrived with work crews and over a dozen officers to evict campers. The police declared the entire area a crime scene and put up a police line around the entire block to deny copwatchers and supporters access to the area. Copwatchers eventually gained a vantage point on the Mcglougflin bridge to monitor the police activities.
This just happens to be the same spot where City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales, who also oversees the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability hope to move Right 2 Dream 2 aka R2D2. But there’s a bit of a problem with this location. It sits where 99E and the Railroad line meet, so it has the worst air quality of any place in Portland. And that nice vegetated area? It’s a bioswale, meaning certain plants were put there to absorb silt and pollution from surface runoff water. I do not think I am being dramatic when I say that based on Fritz and Hales’ track record with houseless people, poisoning them may be the logical next step.
Portland has been identified as the fastest gentrifying city in the country. In the exact location where the sweeps have been the most intense, rent is twice the city’s average per square foot for almost all multifamily buildings built in the last two years. Portland sure is changing, right in tune with the first guiding principle in its 20 year Urban Growth plan, “Economic prosperity.” The quoted phrases below are from this plan.
The city is trying to re-brand itself as the place where any business savvy, environmentally conscious, indie rock loving, semi-edgy, semi-elitist person with healthy eating habits, fitness regimen, and an even healthier bank account can come to bask in its “Active gathering places.” Of course the city wants to “Encourage location of businesses and services adjacent to these spaces” so we can all bike a few minutes to our “Local hubs,” bubbling with “commercial services” (shopping opportunities) and “activity” (money spending).
For each distinctive P-town neighborhood, the plan hopes to “Encourage the development of character‐giving design features that are responsive to place and the cultures of Communities.” It doesn’t really matter if the people who gave these communities character can’t afford to live there anymore because look! Funky shopping/eating/drinking area maybe with some occasional graffiti and punk rockers to give the neighborhood and “edgy” vibe. Oh wait, never mind to the graffiti—the city only wants approved “public art” that “highlight[s] the history and diverse cultures of neighborhoods.” I hope everyone is excited for an MLK, Cesar Chavez, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Jon Stewart, and Tupac (cause he’s cool) mural in every neighborhood where the mostly white, mostly wealthy newcomers feel so at home they decide it’s only fitting to open redundant businesses that adhere to city policies about “Crime-preventive design.”
The city wants to create “gathering places”, “Integrate…green spaces”, and “encourage temporary activities and structures in areas that are transitioning to being more urban”, but if you can’t contribute economically, if you’re just a broke, leech on the city’s services, if you’re mentally disabled, struggling with addiction, too black, too Native, too Mexican, too critical, too angry, or too smelly we’re going to crime prevent the shit out of you and disintegrate you from all our gathering places and green spaces. And no you may not live in a temporary structure—those are reserved for businesses that make the city money, not humans that drain it.
The cops will be called on you misfits, vagrants, and bike stealing drug addicts. The city encourages upstanding citizens to call the non-emergency police number if you notice any “improper use of public property” like “abandoned bicycles on public property”, or “abandoned shopping carts on public property” or “individuals camping on public property.” This isn’t really “public” property, it is the city’s wealth cushion property and it’s the job of all you lovely gentrifiers out there to keep fluffing the cushion.
You can help the city protect your holy money by joining the Business Watch to “Work with the Crime Prevention Program Coordinators, police, and other resources to resolve neighborhood concerns.” This is your neighborhood now. Also, nothing says I belong in the city I just moved to like joining the Portland Crime Prevention Program’s “community foot patrols.” These are your parks, your schools, and your pathways now and you don’t need to look at poor people who give you so many uncomfortable feelings.
To further help you make your mark on this lovely city, volunteer with our Graffiti Abatement Program to help “report and remove graffiti from public and private spaces.” Let’s sweep and scrub anything that breaks the spell because the spell maintains the power structure. The city is lucky to have a mayor like Charlie Hales, who stands up for the interests of each and every one of Portland’s generous development companies who financed his campaign. Thank you Charlie! Thank you Portland! On behalf of dollar bills everywhere we all thank you.
JOIN US TO FIGHT THE SWEEPS, TO DEFEND THE HOUSELESS, TO STOP THE YUPPIE INVASION. YOU CAN SCRUB OFF OUR GRAFFITI BUT WE CRIMINALS WILL ALWAYS SEE THE MOTIVES BEHIND YOUR LAWS. THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY.