By Midge Pierce
A pair of petitions demanding the City take forceful action against criminal elements on our streets has struck a nerve.
The petitions were started after a handful of East Side residents wrote an op-ed for The Oregonian slamming the City for overly tolerant policies that have enabled “grifters and predators to insinuate themselves amongst Portland’s homeless.”
The article cites break-ins, assaults, defecation in public places, harassment of local businesses and their customers, needles in parks and machete threats.
The last straw for the five article contributors was the attempted murder of a Portland father who was stabbed 17 times after he confronted a homeless person setting up a tent camp in his neighborhood.
Through word of mouth and limited Next Door exposure, the petitions have so-far been signed by more than 1500 residents.
They call for more neighborhood police response teams, aggressive enforcement and prosecution of crimes, removal of tent encampments in residential neighborhoods, increases in homeless services and safety plus enforcement of loiter-free zones in front of local businesses.
The documents vary in their emphasis: One focuses on the recent stabbing, the other is a generic recap of demands in the op-ed letter. The co-authors encourage residents to sign both.
“We want to provide equal opportunities for all concerned citizens to address this issue,” explains Lourdes Gonzalez.
Co-author David Kline is convinced change is coming. “Without law and order, we are in total anarchy mode.”
Kline, careful to distinguish between the criminally active and vulnerable homeless who also need protection, says, “Two years ago, residents could be silenced by charges of privilege or elitism. Not anymore. Crime has gotten so much worse, public opinion has shifted.”
Online corroboration seemed to support Kline’s views. A Kerns resident wrote, “It’s not about lack of compassion. We’re not suggesting homelessness as a crime, we’re suggesting criminal activity is a crime.”
From another: “Being liberal does not mean supporting violence and theft of property.”
A former employee along Hawthorne Blvd. wrote that she refuses to work anywhere in the area “because it’s not worth risking your life and sanity.”
A comment in the Next Door website indicated, “You get put on hold when you dial 911, after depositing vast sums of money into city coffers…”
A Buckman resident wrote that the issues are driving law-abiding citizens out of the City.
Dialogue went back and forth between the need to root out problems vs. getting to the root of the rot.
Pushback came from those who said the petitions equate all unsheltered as criminals. Others defended the mentally ill and drug addicted that have insufficient resources and “ a right to have their basic needs met .”
Another said the stabbing victim should not have intervened because the camp had “a right to be there.”
Charges of racism and bias occasionally boiled over. One post labeled the authors a Fear Factor Squad. Another described calls for criminal crackdowns a “terrible, horrible generational (thing). A move toward a police state.” Others said calling out predatory vagrants hurts the vulnerable homeless too.
Kline counters that it’s extremists who make defending against criminals an attack on the homeless.
“They don’t want to hear anything that interrupts their narrative. The whole point of our movement is to separate criminals from the homeless, and attack the former while defending the latter.”
The homeless, he continues, need protection from the same predators and thugs attacking those with a roof over their heads.
Portland’s allowance of tent camps in stable neighborhoods is regressive and self-defeating, he concludes. “Cities depend on stable neighborhoods and small local businesses for their economic vitality.”
As a result of the petitions, Gonzalez is optimistic groups will come together to find solutions . “This movement is organic. We realized we had a choice. We could just sit around and whine or demand action.”
Once the petitions are formally presented to officials, she says “the mayor will have a lot of explaining to do.”
If elected officials fail to offer plans for protecting constituents against criminal vagrants “living openly among us…I guarantee we will vote them out.”
Two active petitions: