Building a new activism

By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 26, 2013

That said, in the context of the OccupyMaine lawsuit, the city did describe a practice that it said would not violate local laws, which amounts to express written permission for a 24-hour continuous march through Lincoln Park: “OccupyMaine members could march through the park after 10:00 p.m. while expressing their message in a peaceful way, and there would be no ordinance violation.” It also gives OccupyMaine specific permission to engage in “their expressive activities twenty-four hours a day on adjoining sidewalks or in other public spaces not subject to the City’s Parks Ordinance.” (See “10 Fun Things in the OccupyMaine-Portland Lawsuit,” by Jeff Inglis, August 24, 2012.)

That issue almost arose again in the context of the Congress Square Plaza protests, when people planned to spend the weekend in the square starting on Friday, September 6, until the council’s meeting to decide the fate of the park on Monday, September 8. But Police Chief Mike Sauschuck arrived in plain clothes, with no accompanying officers, and worked out a peaceful way for the protesters to make their point and leave.

“At some point, I think the issue’s going to be reviewed in a court of law,” but not necessarily as a result of an Occupy-related protest, Branson says.

Fighting homelessness
The petition also asked the city council to fight homelessness in Portland; that request has been met with action, though not always in the way local Occupiers appear to have hoped.

The city has undertaken several initiatives to combat homelessness in Portland, including getting increased federal and state money to help find permanent housing for homeless people, and engaging in what is often called a “housing first” model of addressing other problems often faced by homeless people, such as addiction, medical, and mental-health issues. In that model, people are provided with housing to form a steady and stable base on which to make improvements to their health and well-being, as opposed to being required to overcome addiction or find medical care while still living on the streets.

People are definitely getting help: 300 people who had used city shelters in the past are now in permanent housing, the Forecaster reported in August. Other initiatives include sending out more workers to offer assistance to homeless people on the street or in their campsites, and working to arrange for more housing to be built or converted into housing for people without shelter. (See “Homelessness: Tackling a Growing Need,” by Deirdre Fulton, October 5, 2012.)

But the city’s efforts are far from the full-support effort Occupiers hoped for. While the city and the relevant local non-profits have trumpeted decreased demand for homeless shelters, it may be that some of that drop are because of increased requirements on those who wish to stay: people who want to stay at city shelters indefinitely must accept help finding permanent housing.

Branson is particularly critical of new city laws that target homeless people, such as banning panhandling from the median strips in roads. “The real goal is to get these folks out of sight,” he says. “It was a visible reminder of poverty and homelessness in our society.”

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