10/22/2014

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Politics

Police clear protesters from sidewalk in front of Portland City Hall

Police clear protesters from sidewalk in front of Portland City Hall

PORTLAND, Ore. – Police cleared out the sidewalks around Portland's City Hall Tuesday morning.

Workers began clearing the sidewalks of demonstrators and their belongings around 8 a.m. before a cleaning crew used a pressure washer to hose down the sidewalk.

"We actually don't really need these streets pressure-washed. the pressure-washing is actually a tactic to get the homeless to move out of the spots that they're sleeping in," one camper in front of City Hall told KATU.

Mayor Charlie Hales announced on Monday that police would began enforcing laws that allow them to force out transient “campers” who have spent the better part of two years protesting in front of City Hall.

City law says that between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. people can't camp; they must have their personal property ready to move. During the night a person can roll out a sleeping bag and sleep on the sidewalk.

As of Tuesday night at 11 p.m. there were a few dozen people gathered a City Hall with sleeping bags. The mood was peaceful and some people even brought kids with them.

Hales said the demonstrators were harassing the general public during the day who wanted to enter the building, and said there have been numerous complaints of everything from fighting to drug use to sex on the sidewalk.

"This is one of the few places in the city where a homeless person can get a decent night's sleep and not be woken up in the morning, and we're trying to keep it that way," a camper said.

Police approached each person on the sidewalk and asked them to leave, much to the consternation of some vocal protesters. One man was temporarily detained and moved off the sidewalk, but was not arrested.

The Portland Business Alliance credited the mayor's office with taking action to improve the area for nearby business owners.

Linda Searcy, co-owner of the Portland Outdoor Store, where a 70-year-old employee was attacked by a homeless person earlier this month, believes stopping people from sitting around on the sidewalk during the day -- but still allowing them to sleep there at night -- will still negatively affect her business.

"I think it's a little short-sighted," Searcy said. "I think that you're ignoring parts of downtown that really also deserve to have that ordinance enforced."

Attorney Bruce McCain told KATU that despite what some area businesses would like, there's no way to legally prevent people from hanging out in front of their stores.

"Any area that's outside the pedestrian use zone, the city does not regulate," McCain said. "And this has been over several years of constitutional challenges to the city's sit-lie ordinance. Every time they try to make a blanket 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week ordinance that covers the entire sidewalk, they've run into some constitutional issues."

The current sidewalk use ordinance allows people to sit or lie down on part of the sidewalk during the day, providing they leave the appropriate amount of room for foot traffic.

The Multnomah county district attorney’s office confirms that to stop people from using any part of the sidewalk to sit or lie down, as is the case in front of City Hall, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has to find there is a health or safety danger for non-pedestrians.

Portland used to have a stricter sidewalk ordinance, but a judge tossed it out eight years ago.

Hales' spokesman Dana Haynes said in the long term, the city will likely need help from the state Legislature to get tough on sidewalk camping.

Hales apparently has plans for the area in front of City Hall. Willamette Week reported he recently met with staffers in the city's facilities department to discuss adding food carts, coffee carts and tables to the City Hall plaza and lobby.

In the meantime, Hales on Monday said he’s working closely with social-service providers to help the homeless – including those who camped in front of City Hall.

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