It’s a little awkward to think you know anything about a place by visiting for an hour, but here’s some of my observations about the Right to Dream Too homeless “rest area” in downtown Portland, right at the entrance to the Chinatown area of the city – it was just a few blocks from our hotel.
The day we visited they weren’t allowing anyone into the encampment because they were rebuilding a common area structure where women “rested”. It was kinda cool, it was one of the AFSCME locals and all women doing the work.
For Occupy Madison folks, of course the biggest deal was that there was a fence . . . well, it wasn’t actually a fence, it was “art” do they could get around some of the rules about fencing.
A fence is important to these types of communities because then the group can actually have rules, enforce them and keep some order amongst themselves.
This seems to be an on-going issue for most groups – how to maintain order while recognizing that individuals are at various places in their lives and have issues to work out. How can you be inclusive, and make sure the community doesn’t break apart. The guy we talked to said that they first “kill them with kindness” and then if that doesn’t work take another approach. The rules are simple – no alcohol, drugs, violence, sexual harassment, theft, open flames, smoking in tents . . . and the “douchebag rule” – no repeated minor infractions.
As it was described to us, drinking and drugs rules were enforced on the property, zero tolerance but what you did outside the fence was your business, just don’t come back and cause problems, go to your tent and rest. Don’t cause any behavior problems. Because it is private property, they also can search you and your belongings for contraband.
Rules are enforced by residents there, there are 6 or 7 per night and each person takes a night once you have been there for a while. Also, each person in the encampment works 2 hours a week at the front gate. And I forget if they had to do more hours on other tasks, but I’m pretty sure they did. They also all had to come to the Sunday night meetings. There was a 2 week probationary period before they became members. They don’t permanently ban anyone, but they do ask them not to return for 2 days to 6 months.
This “fence” was also cool because it is made out of doors and for $100 you can purchase a door and paint whatever you want on it.
They have been there for 2 years. Right to Survive is their nonprofit and Right to Dream Too is working to become a non-profit themselves. They didn’t want to talk too much about what is going on with the city, but they are trying to get the city to give them a new piece of land.
The conceptual plans they drew for the area seem a little unrealistic, much like the shiny pictures that developers give us to look at to ooo and ahhhh over, but it is what they hope to achieve. They are currently on private land with the permission of the land owner, but as you can see above, the land is for sale. The city is looking at relocating them to the Pearl area, but apparently . . . wait for it . . . the residents don’t want them there – go figure. And on a slightly uglier note, the area they are in now, the neighborhood hired private rent-a-cops to kick people out of the doorways, so they feel it is necessary to have a place where people can rest for more than 5 or 6 hours before they are required to move.
The city hoops to jump through didn’t seem as onerous. There were not concerns about having tarps on tents that were not fire retardant, like the City of Madison required. The gray water just got dumped in the dumpster when they did the dishes.
The Right To Dream Too flyer says:
After 2 years of being fined for providing this service, the tables are turning. Society is realizing it’s responsibility to the existence of community outside of the normal box. With people working hard and still only next paycheck away from being foreclosed or evicted, it’s the neighborhood or clergy that stood between an at risk person or family and the street.
But now there is less going around all across the board, so the resources for helping are getting slimmer. As it is now, it’s illegal to exist without housing, so people need a place to gather as peers to life each other up as a community with a sense of empowerment. This empowerment comes from homeless helping homeless
Who other to understand? Someone that never spent a night on the street? The most unintrusive way to reincorporate back into the mix is through a grassroots approach at the level they are at the time, this is less traumatic to someone fresh to the street. And that is what we do best!
This is a “rest area”. I’m not sure all the legalities to that, will figure that out when I get home. They also seem to have a new state law that allows two transitional encampments in each municipality in Oregon. At least I think that is what I understood, also have to follow up on that.
They are also working on a Homeless Bill of Rights – the flyer says:
The Bill Would:
- Protect the homeless people’s right to move freely, rest, sleep and pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination
- Prevent homeless people from being unfairly targeted by police and private security just for appearing homeless.
- Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle
- Right to share food and eat in public
- Provide homeless people the right to counsel whenever the District Attorney is in court to prosecute them for infractions.
- Right to 24-hour access to hygiene facilities to be provided by local municipalities according to their infrastructure.
- Prohibit discrimination based on housing status for government services
The Bill Would Not:
- Permit anyone, homeless or not, to harass people on the streets or maliciously block sidewalks.
- Allow people to urinate and defecate publicly.
- Allow homeless people to harm or interfere with local business’ operations
- Grant homeless individuals “special rights” over all other citizens
- Infringe on anyone’s property rights
- Allow homeless people to act with impunity and disregard for local laws
- Prevent enforcement of laws that protect health and safety
- Legalize drug dealing or use or public intoxication.
Ahhhhh . . . sound familiar? Controversial?
For more info . . . google it!
Categories: | Dane | Madison | Media