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Your call: Mayoral and City Council candidates question panhandling, sidewalks

Mayoral and City Council candidates Charlie Hales, Jefferson Smith, Amanda Fritz and Mary Nolan take a shot at Street Roots’ questions for the future of Portland.

3. Many issues of livability can become sticking points on the streets of Portland. Please state your position on the following topics: Support for the current Sidewalk Management Plan, panhandling and the future of Right 2 Dream Too.

Charlie Hales:  Clearly, we continue to have challenges we must address downtown, but the answer doesn’t lie with simply moving the problem from one part of the City to another. Enhancing the City’s nuanced approach will be the best way to help our homeless residents and make downtown a welcoming environment for all. New approaches are starting to take effect. For example, Central City Concern is participating in a low-yield bond program that has had initial success in workforce training. But we still have further to go. As mayor, I will be committed to working with Multnomah County and all of the nonprofit service providers in addressing mental health issues. We will work with organizations that help people find housing and employment options, and we will train a police bureau to de-escalate wherever possible, protecting the safety of everyone in Portland. There is great interest in the city getting these issues right. You have my commitment to keeping our downtown the livable center of a livable city, and to exploring all ideas and partnerships that will help us make that vision real on the streets.  In the interim, until we can find and implement lasting solutions I support Right 2 Dream Too.  It’s not perfect, but it provides Portland citizens with basic fundamental rights of shelter, water and food.

Jefferson Smith:  I support Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too. Going forward, we need to better link encampments with services. These are places where people living on the streets can get rest and feel safe. It’s ironic that well more than half of Portland’s residents don’t feel safe at night, and yet, in so many cases, we are reluctant to recognize that people living on the streets also often live in fear. Opportunities such as the temporary shelters at Right 2 Dream Too are critical to finding ways to reach out to people on the streets and provide them with services they need. As mayor, I will actually build affordable housing rather than just discussing it, and I will work with the PDC and city bureaus to make sure affordable housing takes precedent over urban renewal type development.

The issues of the Sidewalk Management Plan and panhandling are clearly intertwined. Recently, I spoke to the Pearl District Neighborhood Association and heard their concerns about these issues. Protecting the constitutional rights of people on the streets while at the same time being aware of the concerns of people living in neighborhoods will require significant efforts to get at the root causes of homelessness and the fear associated with people on the streets. I will lead that conversation as I believe it has great implications on all of our city.

We can and should do a better job of meeting the needs and concerns of neighborhoods and the people who populate them. Providing meals and services to people living on the street, ensuring they have a safe place to go and warm food are critical to ending the conflicts we see today. There are no easy answers, but I will bring all sides together to work on real solutions.

Amanda Fritz: I support the Sidewalk Management Plan. I was instrumental in finding a solution that is working. It’s not perfect, but complex solutions to significant issues rarely are. It has not been challenged in court, and it provides a mechanism to share downtown sidewalks. I continue to be the council’s coordinator on sidewalks issues, meeting regularly with the Sharing Public Spaces advisory group I convened.  I will work with all members of the incoming council, with the PBA, and other stakeholders including people experiencing houselessness, to continue to address this issue of significant importance to all members of our community. I helped resolve Cameron Whitten’s hunger strike, by promising a regional summit on housing in November. This summit is a needed step to resolve the lack of affordable housing in our region, due to decreased support from the federal and state governments.  We must address the root causes that lead to people panhandling and sleeping outside.

Freedom of speech expressed by panhandling is a constitutional right. I will continue to uphold the constitutions of the state of Oregon and the United States.

Everyone should have the right to sleep undisturbed when no public safety issues are violated. There are valid reasons why Right 2 Dream Too in its current location cannot be legalized, however commmunity leaders there are providing an excellent demonstration of how safe, self-governed settlements can help reduce the impacts of houselessness. I will continue to listen to and work with advocates of people living outside, to find more solutions.

Mary Nolan: The fact that Portland even felt a need to establish a Sidewalk Management Plan, or that panhandling raises tensions between people who beg and people who pass them by, or that anyone should need the services offered by Right 2 Dream Too, the existence of these plans and services speaks volumes to the much deeper problem we seem to want to evade.  Portland faces a slow but persistent (and probably accelerating) decline in its capacity to provide employment, self-sufficiency and upward mobility for a significant portion of its residents and neighbors.  I support responsive and short-term social services to give people the help they need to get through a tough time.  I also support (and in the legislature helped expand) long-term services for seniors, persons with disabilities and families with special needs as either new arrivals or historically excluded groups.  But I am most focused on not just “giving a man a fish” but “teaching a woman to fish.”  I want to help existing companies that are locally oriented to expand and hire more Portlanders.  I want to expand technical training and apprenticeships to be available to more people, I want to make it easier for hard-working Portlanders to start a small business and succeed at it for themselves and the people they will hire.

Question 1: Police and mental health

Question 2: Joint-Terrorism Task Force, FBI