“Sleep is a Human Right!” Homeless Protest Camps at City Hall, Packs Council

By Sarah Mirk, The Portland Mercury, Wed, Feb 1, 2012

Homeless advocates got started early on their Wednesday morning protest to urge city council to waive the fines on the Right 2 Dream, Too tent city—really early. Last night at 10pm, about 70 protesters met outside city hall, setting up a free coffee stand and settling in for an “EPIC SLUMBER PARTY.”

The “rest area” on NW 4th and Burnside provides tents and a safe place to sleep for up about 70 people every night, but is facing $640 a month in city fines for various code violations.

Sleep Is A Human RightSpirits were high at the slumber party, despite the fact that no one seemed to be doing much slumbering and protesters were facing a cold night in sleeping bags laid over cardboard on the edge of the sidewalk outside city hall (under the camping ban, no structures are allowed to be build without a permit). “The camping ban is unjust,” said 22-year-old protester Axcelle Bell, who was recently “entrenched in Occupy” and planned to sleep on the sidewalk over night.

“Overturning the ban is the best idea, people sleeping in cars is unacceptable and just stopping enforcement of the ban is nice, but it might not stop cop harassment.”

Some protesters were still asleep on the sidewalk this morning when a larger crowd started showing up for a bright-and-early 8:30 am rally. Bell, though awake, said he’d only snatched a few hours of sleep on the cold and noisy street. Numerous people addressed the crowd, calling on the city to essentially leave Right 2 Dream Too alone, including current tent city resident Trisha Diertch, who said she became homeless three years ago after fleeing domestic violence. The wait list to get into a long-term shelter was two-and-a-half months, so Diertch wound up sleeping on the streets. While she’s still looking for permanent housing, Right 2 Dream Too has been a haven for her. “I like it there, it’s safe, I can leave my stuff there, I can stay dry,” said Diertch.

Inside council, the homeless activists took up almost every chair in the lower chamber. “Instead of expensive police contact, sidewalk cleanup, and impact on local businesses, we have become good neighbors,” protester Kevin Nolan told council during the three-minute public communications that kick off every meeting.

Council is not currently considering any move to waive the fines, but members of Right 2 Dream Too hope to put pressure on Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the head of the Bureau of Development Services, to nix the fees.