PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Rally goers gathered in downtown Portland in opposition to homeless sweeps Tuesday afternoon ahead of city council’s consideration of renewing its service contract with the Downtown Clean and Safe district.
Downtown Clean and Safe is one of three enhanced service districts in Portland. According to the city, the program allows “property and business owners to form districts that fund extra services such as trash cleanup, graffiti removal, business activation, and community ambassadors.”
However, opponents of the program criticize it for what they describe as increasing private security and policing which specifically targets those experiencing homelessness, according to a press release by activist group Stop the Sweeps PDX.
The group organized an 11 a.m. rally that took place outside where an initial city listening session was held at noon, outside the Portland Building downtown. A second listening session was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Both listening sessions are being held over Zoom.
The rally included activists, speakers and other participants as people held up signs with slogans against homeless sweeps and passed out posters, artwork, zines, stickers, snacks and water.
Barbie Weber gave a speech during the rally saying she identifies as chronically homeless. Although she did not organize the rally and mentioned she’s met some members of Clean and Safe she thinks are “very nice people,” she said she thinks many are still “programmed to think that we’re the problem.”
“Officer Sanders at one time told a whole group of us we were tearing down the fabric of this country,” she said.
Weber said at one point her camp was being swept 10 times per month. And although she had a strong enough support system of people to be able to evade permanently losing her personal property, she said she witnessed many other people experiencing homelessness whose possessions were trashed without due process.
“Living outside, you lack the resources to properly store your belongings and it’s a constant battle. You want to be comfortable. And what is wrong with comfort? What is wrong with wanting that blanket that your granny made you?” Weber said.
Juan Chavez, the Civil Rights Project Director at Oregon Justice Resource Center, also made a speech at the rally. He told KOIN 6 News he believes Clean and Safe displaces, abuses and deprives people of being able to live out their day.
“There is no benefit to sweeping people off the streets […] Displacing them is not going to solve the problem of houselessness, it’s not going to solve the problem of perceived crime or uncleanliness. What is going to do that is providing services and providing housing,” Chavez said.
After the speeches, rally goers entered the Portland Building to testify in opposition to the contract and homeless sweeps.
Earlier this week, at a large encampment at Laurelhurst Park and outside of the Clean and Safe district, the city posted a 72 hour notice of eviction. That comes after city officials said campers allegedly pulled out guns and threatened a service worker.
According to the City Auditor’s office, security made up $2 million of Clean and Safe’s $5 million total budget in 2019. That budget includes the deployment of armed private security officers with Portland Patrol, Inc., as well as the funding of four additional Portland Police Bureau officers who patrol within the district. Clean and Safe also has one staff person for the district attorney’s office as part of its services.
An August 2020 audit of the city’s enhanced service districts found that the city had little oversight over the security, enforcement and management of the public spaces overseen by those districts and with little opportunity for public input.