Portland Chooses Cruelty

Having only just learned as it was winding down of the lawsuit against the City of Portland under the Americans with Disabilities Act, I’d lamented that it only does the work of the rich and powerful by splitting what should be natural political allies.

After reading two pieces by Courtney Vaughn for The Portland Mercury—one on settling the suit and one on the new camping ban—it’s sad to see just how cold and just how hard this city is choosing to become.

It’s especially morally grating that City Council rejected one Commissioner’s proposal that maybe before we enact a camping ban we first actually bother to have alternative shelters, mass or otherwise, available so that people have someplace to go when rousted. Then there’s the bit where "City staff previously suggested libraries could provide a safe space to go during the day", as if we pay librarians sufficiently to have to act as social workers.

Here, too, I learned that the lawsuit basically was little more than a stalking horse for the right-wing People For Portland, but also I learned that Disability Rights Oregon did not support the lawsuit.

Others, like Tom Stenson of Disability Rights Oregon (DRO), say the city is likely not in compliance with ADA laws, but the settlement agreement won’t fix that. Instead, Stenson argues, without stable housing, it will only push people from one sidewalk to another.

Stenson, DRO’s deputy legal director, noted a similar settlement in Los Angeles, which instead devoted funds toward housing in order to move people off the streets.

“There doesn’t seem to be a long term solution to this,” Stenson told the Mercury Wednesday afternoon. “I think what people are looking for and what they need is long term housing. They need mental health help and (assistance) for recovering from substance abuse. It’s bizarre to me that we’re refusing to use the funds that are specifically dedicated to finding people housing, and instead doubling down on sweeps.”

This actually is the rub. The very people pushing to further criminalize the unhoused inevitably also are the people who push back against any suggestion that we dramatically (or, really, even minimally) ramp up spending on housing and healthcare, which are the actual solutions.

Instead, people seem intent on pursuing cruelty even if they’d argue that for them the cruelty isn’t, per se, the point. The policies themselves, however, as well as the sowing of divisions where we instead ought to be building solidarity and capacity, nonetheless are cruel, and those pursuing them are culpable for that cruelty regardless.