Appeal to ODOT: Please Stop The Sweeps

This call out was sent from Vahid Brown Jan. 28, 2016 on Facebook.

“If you want to add your name as a signatory to this letter, to be sent to ODOT tomorrow morning, please put your name in the comments. Add affiliation or title if you’d like – “June Smith, advocate,” or “Bob Roberts, Street Roots.” If you’re seeing this as a share on another page, send me your name/affiliation in a message.
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Community demands of ODOT on sweeps
The advocacy community in Portland has been united in opposing sweeps of houseless people, or the forced removal of houseless people from outdoor space where they are sleeping or sheltering, often accompanied by the removal of the houseless peoples’ property.

We have seen that sweeps overwhelm the entire municipal, county, and non-profit infrastructure serving people in housing crisis and impede organizations and agencies at every level in carrying out their mission, by throwing upon their doorsteps, day after day, an unending stream of people who have, yet again, lost everything to a sweep.

Sweeps send people who would otherwise have sheltered in place in a tent or group of tents to already-overwhelmed shelters.

They interrupt the process of getting into housing by separating people from their personal identification and vital documents.

They create medical emergencies that send houseless people to emergency rooms.

They often engender confrontation with law enforcement that end up with houseless people going to jail.

Aside from being inhumane and arguably unconstitutional, sweeps are enormously expensive and wasteful.

After declaring a state of emergency in Portland regarding housing, the City of Portland has instituted a moratorium on sweeps by its agencies and commissions. This was the right thing to do.

ODOT, however, continues to drive houseless people into crisis, and our service infrastructure into overload, by routinely posting “no camping” signs wherever the houseless are sheltering on ODOT property.

We are demanding that this practice stop. We would like ODOT to immediately take the following steps:

1. Join the moratorium. ODOT should follow the City’s lead and, in the midst of this winter weather, cease and desist from actions that displace the houseless and deprive them of property needed for survival. We urge ODOT to, if nothing else, temporarily desist from this practice until it can institute better coordination with the city of Portland.

2. Publicly report the posting of notices. ODOT must find a way to publicly report its intent to sweep people from specific areas of ODOT property. Currently there is only the posting of a physical laminated paper notice of intent to sweep made on site by ODOT employees. This is considered so mundane and routine that these notice postings are not even communicated to ODOT leadership. Nor are they communicated to the City. There needs to be transparent and automatic reporting of ODOT’s intent to sweep human encampments in such a way that this information can be accessed by the public, by the housing services sector, and by city agencies.
3. Coordinate with the City of Portland. There needs to be some mechanism whereby ODOT and the City of Portland coordinate with regard to any ODOT sweeps. Without such coordination ODOT sweeps will continue to inundate the existing service infrastructure and other creative solutions like organized camps. This coordination will require that management within ODOT instate reporting requirements regarding sweeps and identify an individual or office that will take on the responsibility of communicating with the City of Portland whenever ODOT enforcement actions directly affect the houseless.

4. Be transparent and specific on date of enforcement actions. Currently ODOT posts “no camping” notices at houseless encampments that indicate a ten day window, beginning ten days out from the time of posting, on any given day of which ODOT will come and remove property. This must be narrowed to a single date, whether that be ten days out or nineteen days out from the time of posting. The current practice is unnecessarily cruel as it leaves the houseless in a state of acute anxiety within the window of enforcement, not knowing if the dreaded arrival of ODOT will be today, tomorrow, or next week. Advocates and the housing nonprofit sector that might wish to assist the houseless in these situations are also unable to properly plan for the mobilization of resources.

5. Drop the fee for property recovery. It is unconscionably inhumane that ODOT would require of people experiencing acute indigence that they pay $2 for the recovery of their few possessions after those possessions are seized by the State. The population affected by ODOT enforcements does not generally have disposable income, a fact which should be obvious.

6. Provide transportation assistance. ODOT must make accommodation for the transportation of houseless individuals who have had their property seized and removed to ODOT’s facility in Clackamas. Simply telling the houseless that they can come get their things back is insufficient as, again, this is a community generally lacking in sufficient resources to pay for such travel. Many of the houseless affected by ODOT are severely disabled, experiencing debilitating illness or substance dependency, and are unfit to travel on their own steam. Not making accommodation for the likely disability of persons affected by ODOT enforcement violates the rights of these citizens.
7. Prioritize ID and document recovery. The single most common barrier to transitioning into housing for the houseless is loss of vital documents. One of the most common reasons for loss of ID or identifying documents is experiencing a sweep. ODOT needs to find a way to distinguish the presence of such cards or documents when it gathers up property, handle it separately from other property, and prioritize having it returned to the affected houseless. This may require coordination with the City, such that, for example, a nonprofit like Central City Concern, Transition Projects, or the city-county A Home for Everyone be given possession of the documents in a process that focuses on returning them to their owners.
8. Prioritize medication recovery. Similarly, ODOT must design a process, perhaps in coordination with a city agency or contracted nonprofit, to ensure the rapid return of medications. This and the previous demand could be aligned to transportation assistance. For instance, if a camper is not present at the time of an ODOT enforcement action and there are documents and/or medications found among the seized property, a notice could be left with a number to call for immediate transportation assistance to connect the camper with these vitally important belongings.
We strongly encourage ODOT to immediately suspend sweeps and begin coordination with the City of Portland as we struggle to deal with our housing emergency. Implementation of the above changes in the event that ODOT returns to the practice of “no camping” enforcement will significantly lessen the impact that the Department’s actions currently has on the most vulnerable segment of our population. Members of the advocacy community would be happy to sit down with ODOT leadership to discuss these matters.

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