The Issues of Homelessness as they Relate to Law Enforcement

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By Fred Stewart

Law enforcement should play a more active role in addressing Portland’s homelessness crisis.

Over the last few months, I’ve talked to Portland voters and found that one issue on everyone’s mind, regardless of where they live, is the problem posed by the city’s homeless population. Portlanders are upset about the lack of a strategic plan on how to deal with the ever-growing homeless population and the societal effects of having people living on our streets and in our parks.

City Hall must do more to shelter the homeless and to address the factors that led to their homelessness. However, there is also a step to solving our homelessness crisis that City Council currently neglects: policing. To reduce crime, our police must be allowed to make further contact with our homeless.

After a shooting at a homeless camp last month, the Mayor issued a statement that, in my opinion, sums up his lack of vision and problem-solving skills on this issue. Mayor Hales said, “This particular incident highlights that our homeless population are among our most vulnerable to being victimized by criminals, regardless of whether the criminal lives indoors or out. It’s why the City has been aggressively working to find safe places for people to sleep in the short term and to get back to the safety of a permanent home as quickly as possible.”

The Mayor’s comments would suggest that he understands that homelessness is a challenge that the city must face from many angles. Unfortunately, his actions don’t match his words. Right now, City Hall is pretending that the growth in our homeless population has no effect on crime. As the recent shooting reveals, we cannot continue to act like more homelessness in Portland will not require more policing to mitigate its impact. So, let me help Mayor Hales understand how to help solve the problem, not surrender to it.

  1. Regardless of whether the police are told not to enforce the law against street camping, street camping is still against the law. City Hall should let the police start contacting and getting identification from people found camping on the street. They should do this to keep track of wanted people with outstanding warrants, sex offenders violating their probation and parole, runaways, and abuse victims.
  2. Expand the Police Behavioral Health Unit. Reach out to OHSU for medical and psychology students to pair with an officer as part of their education. PSU’s School of Social Work should be invited to get involved, too. This will grant our students valuable experience and will give our police the support and training they need to best address the sensitive issue of mental illness.
  3. Pair a Portland Fire Bureau SERT medic with an officer on each of these active-engagement police shifts, to help assess medical needs on people they contact. Many homeless people have untreated physical and mental health problems that must be addressed as root causes in order to reduce homelessness in our city.
  4. Expand the police’s current ability to place a civil hold on intoxicated people to include minors found in violation of curfew who cannot identify themselves or their guardians. Furthermore, the scope of civil hold should also be expanded to include people who are psychologically unable to care for themselves and are either gravely disabled by their condition or pose a danger to themselves or others.

Here is what I think will happen. As wanted people are arrested, criminals will hear that the cops are engaged and looking for people with warrants and will thus move out of Portland. As runaway minors are identified, some of that segment of the population will leave–hopefully to return home. With more information on these runaways, the City will be more able to help address their needs, both in terms of social services and the justice system.

The goal should be to actively engage, not to ignore. Homelessness is not a crime, but there are criminals among our current homeless population that must be stopped. We owe it to Portland to make sure we weed out the bad so they don’t prey on the good. The mayor’s current policy is like a three-legged table. Without active law enforcement as a fourth leg, it is unusable.

Recently I was walking in the Pearl District with my friend and advisor, retired PPB Captain CW Jensen, when we were solicited for money by a homeless man. I said that I would not give him money, but I would pay him to answer a few questions. He quickly agreed. I found out he was from San Diego. When I asked him why he would leave such a great climate for rainy Portland, he said that they arrest people down there, and everyone knows that Portland has better benefits for the homeless than San Diego and that our cops don’t hassle them as much. That was worth every cent of the three bucks I handed him.

It is well and good that the City of Portland provides compassion and care for its homeless population. At the same time, we must not neglect the law enforcement needs of our city when dealing with them. Citizens, churches, and business owners should not be forced to have their homes, facilities, and storefronts used as beds, toilets, or trash cans by the homeless. In particular, we should work to weed out criminals from within their ranks, which will certainly happen if we investigate street campers for outstanding warrants.

By refusing to allow law enforcement to even engage street campers, the City is making it easier for criminals to prey upon its citizens, both within and outside the homeless community, and this makes Portland a worse place to live, visit, and do business. That is not compassion, it is complicity. As a Portlander of 39 years who loves our city and its values of generosity and respect, that saddens me.

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Report Card for Fred Stewart

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By Fred’s Campaign Team

SUBJECT: Economic Experience
GRADE: A
COMMENTS:
 Fred has a substantial amount of experience in the world of real estate and banking. He has presided over 1000 real estate transactions and 2000 mortgage transactions over his 25-year career as a Realtor. He also has a strong background in banking, having worked for five years with one of Australia’s largest investment banks, Macquarie Ltd. With a strong understanding of how the housing market works and a focus on North and Northeast Portland, Fred can speak firsthand to the changes occurring in Portland’s economy. Fred’s economic understanding of Portland would be highly invaluable at City Hall.

 

SUBJECT: Community Involvement
GRADE: A
COMMENTS:
 Fred has taken an active role in the community he calls home. After reviving the King Neighborhood Association, he was elected its President in 1990, an office in which he faithfully served for nine years. Under his leadership, the King Neighborhood Association went from a dead organization to one of the most active Neighborhood Associations in all of Portland, with a board noted for its diversity of backgrounds. As a Realtor who sold homes near his own, Fred worked not just to make money selling properties, but to build, shape, and preserve a community that he and his neighbors could be proud to call home. This degree of community involvement reflects a civic spirit currently lacking in City Hall.

 

SUBJECT: Commitment to Social Justice
GRADE: A
COMMENTS:
 Fred has long been an advocate for social justice in Portland. Of particular interest to Fred has been the issue of law enforcement and how the police interact with citizens. By serving on the Portland Police Bureau’s Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC), he worked to hold the police accountable to the people and helped ensure fair, impartial analysis for all parties involved in investigations. At the same time, he served on the Police Bureau’s Budget Advisory Committee to ensure that Portlanders’ tax dollars were being spent well. Yet Fred’s passion for social justice is not limited to police issues. He has long been an advocate for LGBT rights in Portland, going back to his hard work on the No on 9 Campaign in 1992. Finally, Fred has fought in his capacity as a Realtor to keep Portlanders in their homes. During the Great Recession of 2008-10, Fred coordinated with dozens of people who were at risk for displacement and homelessness, and, at no personal profit, worked out arrangements to keep them in their neighborhood homes in North and Northeast Portland. All of this points to Fred’s willingness to take leadership roles in fighting for Portland’s most vulnerable people.

 

SUBJECT: Experience with Everyday Portlanders
GRADE: A
COMMENTS:
 Fred turned a seedy strip club in North Portland into a neighborhood bar called Shanny’s Tavern. It was a good place, and patrons enjoyed its homey environment and friendly owner/bartender. The beer was good, too—Fred was an early adopter of Portland’s renowned microbrews. As its owner, he employed up to ten people at a time, and paid a wage that was well above the market standard. Even after he left the bar business, he maintained his focus on building relationships as a Realtor and as a community activist, and counts people from a great variety of cultures, neighborhoods, political stances, and socioeconomic levels as his friends and confidantes. As a candidate, Fred has still has been known for his openness to talking about the issues and listening to people’s hopes and concerns. Chat him up next time you see him out and about, or give him a call—he’ll talk to anyone, anytime.

 

SUBJECT: Appreciation for the Nitty-Gritty
GRADE: A
COMMENTS:
 Fred knows what it takes to be a City Commissioner. His service on the Metro Future Vision Commission is a testament to his ability to apply personal experience as a Portlander and professional expertise as a Realtor and banker to making the City of Portland a better place. On the Commission, Fred dove wholeheartedly into the details of urban planning, from traffic engineering to population dynamics, and by listening, researching, and asking questions, he helped the Commission. Fred has a lot of good and bold ideas, like instituting land banking in Portland, or mandating micro-generation of power on newly-constructed buildings, but he recognizes that any good idea is rooted in many layers of research and analysis. Unlike many on the current City Council, Fred only proposes ideas that he knows to be airtight, and refuses to offer “feel good” solutions that accomplish only superficial change.