People have a tendency to treat the homeless like they’re invisible: As long as I can’t see them, I don’t have to do anything. And when the homeless have the gall to not keep themselves out of our sight, we also have a tendency to get really angry and demand our cities get rid of them as if they were garbage to be stored at a dump. This is the motivation behind a lot of fairly cruel policies cities have adopted that confiscate or destroy tent cities and chase the homeless away from the “nice” neighborhoods. But all that does is make their lives more desperate and difficult, increasing the amount of drugs, alcohol and violence. Understanding this basic fact, Portland decided to try something different.
Safe Sleep Policy
Launched by Hales in February as a six-month experiment, Portland’s “safe sleep policy” allows the homeless to bunk down on city sidewalks in groups of up to six, starting at 9 p.m. daily and packing up and leaving by 7 the next morning.
Individuals or groups – an estimated 2,000 homeless spend the nights outdoors in Portland – can pick secure, lighted areas to lay down sleeping bags and tarps with less risk of being robbed or hurt by attackers, or rousted by police, as opposed to sleeping in parks or the bushes.
Tents are also allowed under Hales’ policies, but only on city rights of way such as public parking strips.
A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, Sara Hottman, said that since the new policies have been instituted, people have stopped complaining about the homeless and instead started focusing on more concrete issues like the garbage they leave behind and their behavior. That may not sound like much of a difference but it’s actually quite huge. Like I said at the beginning of the article, people don’t mind/care about the homeless as long as the homeless don’t impact their lives. To that end, Portland is setting up dumpsters and port-a-potties near the designated sleeping areas.
None of this deals with the actual problem of homelessness, of course, and some people *cough*rich people*cough* are suing to block the new policies under the claim that it’s hurting the poor:
Susan Steward, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Assn. of Oregon, the lead plaintiff, declined to comment directly but pointed to a copy of the legal complaint.
“Telling people to sleep on the streets is not humane,” the suit alleges. “In fact, it is the opposite of humane; as recent events have shown, the Mayor’s Camping Policy has resulted in violence, unhealthy conditions, and pain and suffering for our most vulnerable residents.
The LA Times article does not mention it but I’m fairly certain that the Building Owners and Managers Assn. of Oregon is not going to open its doors to get the homeless off the streets. This seems less like they care about the homeless and more about protecting their property values. But until the city can build more shelters and add more beds for the homeless (which they’ve budgeted for) and someone figures out the magic solution to all homelessness, the homeless have to sleep SOMEWHERE and applying some organization and resources in the meantime benefits everyone involved, especially the homeless.
We’ve already seen that treating them like animals doesn’t work. How about we give treating them like people a shot, instead?
Featured image via Getty.