Resting Safe, an environmental investigative research project underway

With a 1,342% increase in unique homeless encampments reported in the media since 2007, rest areas now exist on a scale “unprecedented since the Great Depression”.

As Right 2 Survive has worked to consult on the tent cities, rest areas and tiny house communities across the country, we have wanted to address some environmental concerns voiced by residents. We have started to embark on some of this with our environmental justice lens. We know that when encampments are built on polluted sites, often the only urban land not slated for immediate development or planned green spaces, they have environmental hazards such as air pollutants or soil toxins. A community-controlled solution is necessary, one that allows rest area communities themselves to diagnose and reduce exposure to harm. The project, Resting Safe, brings together houseless community leaders of rest areas, encampments and activist-researchers to investigate and intervene in environmental hazards associated within areas houseless are residing. This project will arm houseless communities with information about their sites’ precise types and levels of pollution. It will also, upon completion, provide tools for communities to reduce risks, or push government agencies to do so. Ultimately, this project aims to ensure that houseless intentional communities establish greater control over urban spaces, emerge better equipped to fight for more just land use, housing, healthcare and police systems.

The project is the inspiration of Erin Goodling.  Erin is an NSF-Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon and a long standing member of Right 2 Survive. We first collaborated in issues affecting the houseless and communities of color most impacted by the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. We created media and a safe guide to explain the toxic pollutants in the Willamette river and what are considered safe amounts of fish consumption as a resource tool.

The Resting Safe research project will take around 3 years to complete and will be intensely overseen by the University of Oregon. More can be found at www.restingsafe.org. In the first phase of work, a research team was assembled to identify what types of pollutants we aim to test.  Another team will coordinate on locating and reaching out to various intentional houseless communities across the nation through phone interviews.

In the second phase, we have prepared a short survey for understanding the conditions that impact the communities willing to participate in our research. We will ask about environmental conditions, access to clean water, how their space came into creation, and what other organization they are working with. This will help us determine where we are going to test and to notice any patterns that emerge.

Hazard Assessment & Remediation comes in phase 3 of Resting Safe. Out team will work with a handful of pilot intentional houseless communities to research site histories, conduct soil and air sampling, and inventory other environmental hazards on or around sites. Each community will collectively make decisions about how to address pollution and hazards, following a harm reduction approach. We will provide some low-cost suggestions and advice on how to best use the information we learn from this study.

Phase 4 entails the development of a toolkit from a multimedia approach. The research from our Pilot Sites, how to obtain test soil kits and ways suggested to environmentally friendly remediate the soil will by included in this information. We intend to include a platform for ‘crowdsourcing’ of information and maybe an email or hotline for people to have questions or concerns addressed.

This is a long term project with many components. Some others involved in the research include; Julia McKenna, Ibrahim Mubarak, Lisa Fay RN and Lisa Funk PhD Researcher, Christine Hawn U of Baltimore, Dillon Mahmoudi, Nathen McClintock and Anthony Levenda ASU and PSU Co-Investigators, Melaine Malone Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell.

What is your community doing to address racial disparities among people experiencing homelessness?

IMG_1857.JPG

In Portland, a member of Right 2 Survive teamed up with Hack Oregon to create a factual and informative evaluation of the evolving SWEEPS in communities in our area. The report represents the locations, in part provided by the cities Weekly SWEEPS Report. This information is on the City of Portland.gov website. The site mentions where they intend to clean up and where to SWEEP and how to call in and report campsites.

The Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP) reports intersections of all posted sweeps of campsites in a given week. Portland has had an average of 112.4 sweeps per month, and the amount of sweeps has increased significantly over time. With an estimated average of 5.8 (0-22) people per campsite, and an average of 24.7 sweeps per week, up to 143 people are being displaced on average each week.

http://civicplatform.org/cities/portland/neighborhood  Hack Oregon’s research with graphs and charts shows how the targeting of houseless people has increased over the last 18 months. The reports are definitely worth reviewing. This research is powerful for R2S, as we advocate to decriminalize our houseless neighbors.

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2018/06/portland_homeless_accounted_fo.html  This is a report by the Oregonian exposing the levels of criminalization of houseless people. More ticketing for nonviolent crimes and calls for livability issues played a large role in the direction of the police over the last year. Chief Danelle Outlaw has expressed concerns that the focus of the police department should not be to respond to issues involving campsites, but to focus more on crime prevention.

Between 2015 to 2017, we have seen an INCREASE IN CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS, A 10% INCREASE IN OVERALL HOMELESSNESS IN MULTNOMAH COUNTY and INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF HOMELESS WOMEN. A staggering increase of transgender individuals of 120%. However, the Point In Time Count suggest a decrease in the numbers of unhoused African Americans by 35%. Statistics also show an increase in the numbers of older people, disabled and chronically houseless on most recent reports across the nation. The work researched here in Portland is similar to cities across the country. As houseless neighbors increase in population, so does the targeted criminalization.  One answer is the Navigation Center. It will include 120 beds where the homeless men can stay while they are evaluated and referred to appropriate services. A public/ private partnership on land from Prosper Portland to address houseless is situated in the downtown area.

League of Cities are meeting in Mayor forums to discuss creating one stop shop service centers, increased policing, taking an aggressive approach to criminalize the houseless and in some cities a movement to take ‘conservatorship’ over folks experiencing houselessness. What does this entail? Conservatorships in this instance would mean any houseless person experiencing chronic homelessness, or are in a mental health crisis or drug dependency would be paraded in front of a judge who would determine the competency of the individual. If determined they need care they will be locked involuntarily into a mental health facility, maybe subjected to evaluations and non consent medications and possible non entry into society.

All this is a troubling account of the larger picture. Housing as politically charged topic has rolled off politicians tongues for years. So has the need for more shelter beds and criminalization of ‘living and sustainability’ crimes. Crimes of existence! There isn’t a city across our country that is not building new high rises. National reports everywhere stress new growth. Where are the reports stating an upsurge in attainable housing units?  HUD, with all it’s cuts, needs to focus on meeting the needs of the most impacted by rebuilding their agenda to operating and creation of housing units. Local governments need to use their resources to work in public/ private partnerships investing in attainable housing units, employment training and opportunities to reduce the number of shelter beds and individuals on the streets.

Follow Right 2 Survive as we continue to report on our findings, examine local and national reports, and provide meaningful informative media content as these subjects continue to arise.

Lisa Fay, Board Chair

Ban On Houseless Sleeping on River Banks

Ban On Houseless Sleeping on River Banks

The Department of State Lands wants to stop homeless people from camping on a public-owned beach along the Willamette River.  Zidell a large barge builder’s plan to revamp 3,000 feet of shoreline and cap contaminated river sediments are being obstructed by houseless habitating along the banks according to their reports to Dept. of State Lands.

Zidell was ordered as one of the responsible parties that polluted the Superfund site, to do restorations to the Willamette river. A large portion of their cleanup efforts includes a sediment capping of small rocks covering the floor and banks near their facilities. This cap in theory will allow fish to have cleaner areas to breed and develop. Damage to this cap will undo millions of dollars in restoration to the Superfund and further delay the potential for industrial profits.

The Department of State Lands site threats to the Willamette from houseless persons as the reason for the proposed camping ban in this section of the river. They are stating that the restoration by Zidell is being hindered by their presence. That the shoreline, the plants and shrubs Zidell has planted are being destroyed. The fear is that the sediment cap will not hold if the plants are not kept intact.

Some of Zidell’s work includes the dismantling and salvaging transformers full of toxic PCBs and burning PCB-laden wire insulation of underlying copper. Workers buried debris in open pits and shored up the riverbank with scrap metal, asbestos and other debris throughout the 1960’s to 1980’s adding to the contamination of the Superfund site. Many of the docks and buildings have been burned out causing more harm to the river and its inhabitants.

The proposed ban would apply to overnight camping and still allow people to visit the banks during the day according to the Department of State Lands. However, with our unhoused neighbors being forced to constantly migrate from one area to another, the question remains: where do they go? The natural areas for the most part are out of sight of neighborhoods, access roads, business easements. The houseless do not want to harm the environment but what options are they being given?

Here is a novel concept; Make them stewards of the natural areas. Put unhoused neighbors to work with paid employment. Help them develop skills that can carry into environments, forestry, parks, education, construction jobs. Most of us didn’t have our housing or jobs handed to us, we worked for what we hold on to. Isn’t it time to help our unhoused neighbors have ability and skills to have a little something to hold on to as well. More of our housed neighbors were not able to hold on to their housing. Tomorrow those we call friends, coworkers and neighbors will be the unhoused being pushed to the natural areas and the river’s banks. Companies like Zidell and the Department of State Lands could run with this idea, being the start for these programs putting most impacted communities to work for a brighter future.

By Lisa Fay: Chair - Right 2 Survive, Inc

Volunteers And The R2S Value Proposition

If you come to a Right 2 Survive meeting, there will be plenty of opportunity to see how and what the organization is doing.  Right 2 Survive is a valuable community resource advocating and training about solutions to homelessness.  The organization is growing and volunteers are thrilled to see that there are various ways to help as well as have fun.  There is an active media group open to anyone interested in any area of film production.  The social outreach folks are looking for people that want to concentrate on vlogging, blogging, web design and all the rest in a way to spread the advocacy of the work.  Folks who live outside super appreciate when  volunteers contribute by interacting with the community thru under the bridge walks, Ambassador Program events, grant writing, teaching encampment procedures, public speaking, planning, envisioning and researching.  Recently the Board Chair wrote a research blog on issues around the Superfund cleanup of the Willamette River and how it affects people camping along or close by the river.  See that blog here.

I  know it's a bit out of context however I love The Second Coming by Yeats: "Surely some revelation is at hand" as we go "Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born" see the video below.

Catching up on an event a while back, the theme of the Left Forum 2018 was “Towards a New Strategy for the Left”, which itself stirred up a debate between the left and the other left.  Well I didn’t watch enough videos to fully decipher what a new strategy for the left might be. However Bruce Dixon wrote  “What Would an Authentic 21st Century US Left Look Like” which could be a great outline for Right 2 Survive to incorporate into it's mission and vision statements.

If you would like to support the efforts of Right 2 Survive, please click on the link below and also please share this email with your friends.

Link to the volunteer sign up button

Our meetings are open to the public and we would be honored to see you there.  See below for details.  Chico 

Bells Ring In Portland

The faces on the streets of Portland are more strained, more frustrated, more resilient than we’ve seen in many years. Portland has increased the ways they address houselessness. Yes, they have opened more shelters and have a one stop shop of services coming in the fall 2018. As if it’s the answer to the houseless prayers (SMH). However, the number of unhoused neighbors has also risen

The stepped up measures of Police stops and profiling of houseless has changed the atmosphere. Folks are afraid to walk to food and services for fear of having their names run, bags searched or confiscated, asked to show ID, and or profiled for appearing houseless.The Mayor’s office and Pdx Police, Oregon Dept of Transportation and Metro are SWEEPING unhoused neighbors at alarming rates. The result is that folks don’t want to leave their spots fearing targeting or that their stuff will be gone when they return. In some areas displacement happens every (3) days. One hour is allotted to move belongings.  Anything left after that is either bagged for folks to claim at a far off facility or thrown away as biohazards. 24 hour to 7 day notices are not always posted, creating another level of trauma. Missing during these raids is the apparent lack of social service agencies or mental health providers present when SWEEPS are taking place to support our unhoused neighbors.

Recently, a member of Right 2 Survive was offered the opportunity to research and map the number of SWEEPS and record the frequency and estimated number of folks displaced. Here is a sampling of the findings:

-Over the last 18 months or so, campsite sweeps have significantly increased in Portland. The last 8 months have a count of sweeps above the total average (mean=112.4 per month), showing that the trend is consistent.

-While campsite reports by the public have increased as well (One Point of Contact data), the estimated number of reported campsites in those reports as given by the City of Portland’s HUCIRP program has remained stable.

- The five neighborhoods with the highest quantity of sweeps over this time period are Buckman, Lloyd Center, Lents, Old Town/Chinatown, and Hosford-Abernethy.

- With an estimated average of 5.8 (0-22) people per campsite, and an average of 24.7 sweeps per week, up to 143 people are being displaced on average each week.

Tracking work has happened in other cities with similar alarming stats. The use of displacement and criminalization tactics to manage houselessness is not solving the issues, it is only fostering larger ripples in a broken system.

It is no wonder the faces are strained and flustered. Houseless neighbors are under constant threat of harassment from police by profiling, The SWEEPS, often the result of complaints to the city call in numbers, results in folks have little time for anything else. Uncertainty, sleep deprivation and summer  temperatures have strained and flustered our neighbors without walls. There is no end in the foreseeable future for Portland’s houseless. Neighbors without walls are resilient. They will be moved again. They will be targeted by injustice and they will come together to fight back. We will continue to track and record these despicable tactics aimed at destabilizing the houseless and targeting them with criminalization.

Lisa Fay, Chairperson, Right 2 Survive

A few nights ago I spent time with the new Chief of Portland Police by Sandra Comstock

Comstock image.jpg

A few nights ago I spent time with the new Chief of Portland Police, Danielle Outlaw, and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, surrounded - as well - by the leadership from Street Roots, Right2Survive, and Sisters of the Road. While our meeting had been scheduled last week, the recent police killing of a mentally ill man inside a temporary shelter for the homeless weighed heavily on all minds.

In this context (and in the context of Mayor Wheeler’s recent request to move money from the general fund to increase police staffing) Chief Outlaw asked whether adding more police officers dedicated to “social service” type community engagement might be useful...

My immediate thought was: that is the wrong question to ask and is premised on a faulty logic. The logic behind that question is: we need to hire more police - and more social-work oriented police specifically - because police are receiving more calls than ever involving distressed populations. But is more police the best way to handle this uptick in calls ? The truth is you only need more police IF the calls you are receiving are related to CRIME. In FACT, by the Police Bureau’s own definition, 32% of the rise in PPB’s call volume are related to non-criminal, ‘disorder’ calls.

Disorder calls, in police-speak - are calls where citizens phone in because they are “concerned” about something or someone in their vicinity. According to PPB Portland’s disorder-related calls fall into three categories: welfare checks, ‘unwanted persons,’ and ‘suspicious’ persons or activities. Of the 32% rise in disorder calls over the last year 10,000 were requests for welfare checks; 10,000 were complaints about the presence of ‘unwanted persons;’ and 7,000 were reports of ‘suspicious’ people or activities. ‘Suspicious’ people are most often people that citizens view as ‘not belonging’ in or to their neighborhood.

What is the reason for this 27,000 call rise in disorder calls? I would venture to say that a significant proportion of the callers complaining of ‘unwanted’ or ‘suspicious’ persons were hoping the police might assist them in clearing homeless people away from their homes, businesses, schools, or libraries. In addition, I suspect that a vast number of the 10,000 welfare checks were related to persons showing distress from the daily traumas of being pushed from place to place to place by police ejecting people from camps and by private businesses ejecting houseless people from their places of business because of their status as obviously unhoused.

Increasing Portland’s police force is a counter-productive response to the marked increase in these types of calls. Rather, than reducing or deterring the problem people are calling about, more police engagement will instead likely intensify the volume of distress and unwanted persons calls as more encounters between police and the unhoused generate:

* MORE trauma from stressful interactions with officers

* ADDITIONAL calls to complain about ‘unwanted’ and upset people who are showing up in yet another part of the city after they have been kicked out of the last

* MORE tickets for trespassing that fail to deter unhoused people who still - by necessity - have to rest, sleep, and survive in public space SOMEWHERE, regardless of what the law dictates.

* MORE court resources used to issue warrants and hold hearings to punish and charge the destitute for not having the wherewithal to pay tickets or stop living and surviving in public space

* More carceral system resources spent jailing people for their inability to pay fines or stop surviving in public

* MORE trauma from incarceration and the stress of navigating the court system.

To reiterate - much of the increase in public requests for police are the result of the fact that UNHOUSED people are not welcome in public places. And while citizens call the police hoping to banish unhoused citizens from their presence, no matter the punishment, the unhoused community has no choice but to continue sleeping, resting, and being visible in public. They have no choice because they have neither private nor public places where they might legitimately move their daily activities to. Hiring more officers and increasing police encounters would only have the net effect of increasing the anxiety, indebtedness, incarceration, and legal entanglement of unhoused citizens. In other words, more police would ironically INCREASE the ‘disorder’ they are supposed to eradicate.

But there is a way we could in fact free up police time and resources. This could be achieved by eliminating the reasons behind many ‘disorder related’ requests for police in the first place. We could do this by designating public spaces where our homeless neighbors would be officially allowed to safely make camp, rest, recreate, and determine reasonable rules of conduct and responsibility. This would provide a spot where unhoused people were wanted, not suspicious, and less emotionally vulnerable. I believe this would result in a sharp fall in citizen calls to police to clear away those who ‘don’t belong’ or ‘are unwanted.’ 

Designated public camping areas would provide our unhoused neighbors with places where they DID belong, and where they might live more private and secure lives. Moreover, the unhoused would no longer be legally trespassing when sleeping on public land. This would reduce the need to use police to fine and evict people. It would additionally alleviate the anxiety related to fear of being moved and losing one’s last earthly possessions. Safe, reliable, legal places to rest and make camp would remove the constant worry and fear produced by being perpetually, callously, and unpredictably rousted, as well as fined and jailed for trespassing. Finally, It would allow networks of mutual support and friendship within camps and the broader community to flourish, undisrupted by the perpetual evictions of the past. All these changes would improve the mental health of the unhoused by leaps and bounds.

Lest you think these are “pie in the sky” ideas - we already have constructive working examples and models right here in Portland. Dignity Village, Right2DreamToo, and Hazelnut Grove all serve as laboratories from which to learn and improve. Moreover, we also have the additional example of Sisters of the Road Cafe. Sisters serves as a welcoming, self-governed space in where our unhoused community can enjoy a place that welcomes and provides a warm, dry space of belonging, support, recreation, and social exchange. Legislating and investing in spaces like these would dramatically reduce both police calls and the public expense incurred from punishing the unhoused. It would halt the perpetual moving of homeless portland residents around the city to no positive end or purpose. Our homeless neighbors are not going away - not in a climate of austerity and further reductions to our social safety nets. Evicting homeless neighbors from public spaces will not change their presence on Portland streets.

To paraphrase what Chief Outlaw said herself in our meeting this evening: When people ask me what we, the police, are going to do about the homeless, I say that is not really precisely a policing problem. Because - AFTER ALL, IT IS NOT A CRIME TO BE HOMELESS.

While it is not ostensibly a crime to be homeless, the city has set up rules that prohibit the houseless from going about the tasks of surviving (sleeping, eating, washing, relieving oneself) if it is done in the public sphere. This encourages housed citizens to view all acts of survival carried out in public as crimes. This in turn encourages them to call the police. And these same rules then allow/ even require the police to respond by issuing tickets, which when unpaid become warrants, which become arrests, which become incarceration, which, taken together, become a huge source of mental stress, which when unrelenting enough becomes mental illness. Thus, more adding more police to attend increases in the calls to banish the homeless contributes to an endless upwardly and outwardly spiraling merry-go-round of targeting, punishment, incarceration, and mental degradation.

There is a simple solution to solve this problem and it most definitely does not involve additional police. It is the creation of public spaces where the unhoused are invited to organize the work of survival in a healthy, constructive, self-determining manner.

Constock graph.JPG
Constock graph2.JPG
 Sandra Comstock is a Portland based sociologist.  She helps coordinate the Right 2 Survive Ambassadors program bringing housed and unhoused neighbors together to devise neighborhood based solutions to the challenges and burdens of living on the streets.

Sandra Comstock is a Portland based sociologist.  She helps coordinate the Right 2 Survive Ambassadors program bringing housed and unhoused neighbors together to devise neighborhood based solutions to the challenges and burdens of living on the streets.

Pedestrian Plaza Zones

Pedestrian Plaza Zones

Mayor Ted Wheeler has designated eight new blocks of downtown sidewalks as Pedestrian Use Zones, which would prohibit anyone from sitting down on them. The designation means the sidewalks are only for pedestrians, defined as people who are in movement between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.They included sidewalks near the Galleria on Southwest Morrison, outside the Safeway on Southwest 10th, and outside Columbia Sportswear’s flagship store on Southwest Broadway. “This sidewalk is for pedestrian movement only. Please keep clear.” Sitting there during the day is punishable by a fine of up to $250.