RESTING SAFE team member breaks down policing of houseless folks in Portland for the Western Regional Advocacy Project


Portland is one city with two very different opinions of itself. Whether or not the concept of our city as a liberal utopia, a playground for the young and a capital of millennial culture started with that particular television show, our city leadership has leaned hard into the idea and the monied interests that are attached. That narrative clashes with the other version of Portland, the one where a history of racism and poor housing protection has combined with the insatiable pursuit of developer dollars to create an avalanching crisis, and one of our own making.
A long pattern of decisions on the part of State and City leadership has prioritized the short term interests of land owners and business interests over the needs of the humans living here, creating this particular point in time where the economic refugees sleeping on our sidewalks and making communities in our shared green spaces can no longer be hidden. The people drawn in by the marketing efforts of Portland leadership, moving here to live in the mythical land of bicycle activism and backyard goats, are increasingly forced to confront the residents of the other Portland, the one where tepid and slow moving City responses have done little to blunt the force of our housing crisis. 

In the face of this dissonance, Portlanders are turning to the police to enforce the boundaries of their world.
We’re gonna start with some numbers, but bear with me- this is important. This is all from the Willamette Week. In the last five years 911 calls have increased here by nearly a third'; however, less than a quarter of total calls have anything to do with any crime, real or suspected. People are calling to report the existence of someone living in a tent or in their car. Someone who is committing no crime and frequently not interacting with another human being, but simply living in a way that callers finds unacceptable. Police refer to these calls as “unwanted person” reports, and they couldn’t be more right. Portlanders are calling the Portland Police to report the presence of someone who is unwanted in this city, hoping that the cops will make them disappear. We as a city are using the cops to control what members of our community we see and interact with and have to acknowledge as living here. (To read more, click here.)