Revised: January 2019
By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston[Originally posted under the title, "Salem's Deceased "Sit-Lie" Ordinance."]
Following a public hearing where comment opposed the ordinance bill 21:1, the City Council rejected the bill and authorized the Mayor to create a task force to "study homelessness." AP/Seattle Times picked up the story of the bill's defeat from the Statesman Journal. Find the podcast of Willamette Wake Up's report on the September 25 City Council meeting here.
Clausen said, "to hear that my city is considering a proposal that targets and dehumanizes the most vulnerable part of our population is gut-wrenching. I want to be proud of where I live, but for the first time in my life, I'm embarrassed by the reputation my city is building."
|Dale Hendrick (sp)|
A first-year law student, Clausen spoke of a case out of California involving prohibitions on car-camping that her classmates talked about "for weeks." She said, "the case felt like an historic discriminatory event from the past, and only a few weeks after reading this case, the past became the present -- and in my community. Please don't let this be my future."
Clausen was followed by Dale Hendrick (sp), Ward 3, who said the ordinance did not make "moral or fiscal sense." He wanted to know if the City had considered "other solutions", and characterized the ordinance bill as based on "discriminatory, anti-homeless, anti-veteran" policy, adding that the ordinance was, in general, "anti-human."
|Caleb Hayes (sp)|
The next to comment was Caleb Hayes (sp), Ward 2, who advised the Council that the proposal will waste resources and be challenged. "This is the wrong approach", he said, offering arguments against the bill from the right, left, and civil libertarian viewpoints. He argued also for the City to adopt a Housing First approach, and for efforts to create "real solutions to the problems of homelessness."
|Linda Beir (sp)|
Micky Varney, Ward 8, expressed concern about the ordinance, saying she had recently heard MWVCAA's Jimmy Jones speak about the extent of the problem with homelessness in the local area. She told the Council that the ordinance bill discriminates against homeless individuals, and attempts to "sweep the problem under the rug", which she said was "unacceptable. We can do better." She urged the Council not to support the bill.
Trevor Phillips, Ward 3, ER physician, present to speak in favor of the "child-friendly city" motion, said he felt compelled also to speak against the ordinance bill. "I feel like the Tale of Two Cities. We're about to be the state leader in an amazing initiative to empower kids...but let's end this discussion [about the ordinance bill]. It's not the fault of the homeless that they're homeless. I can't be more eloquent than the words of Councilor Chris Hoy. Criminalizing the human condition won't make it better", he said.
Nancy Baker-Kroft, Ward 1, spoke emotionally against the ordinance bill, and about her personal experiences with homelessness and the barriers people experiencing homelessness face.
Nick Williams (photo at top) said earlier that afternoon, he "took a little trip downtown, and talked to some folks in business" and asked them "about their experiences with our downtown homeless population...In every circumstance, there was compassion, and the overwhelming feeling that Salem can do a lot better...but to not do anything is not acceptable." He said they all asked what they could do, and he told them, "Come to City Council tonight." They wouldn't do that. "Anything else?", they wanted to know. The closest Mr. Williams came to endorsing the ordinance bill was to say, "Thank you for trying to do something. To do nothing is not acceptable."
Joyce Judy, Ward 5, speaking about the ordinance bill, said she was "really angry about it." She did not understand how, given the strong support for the homeless reflected in the City's strategic planning process, that staff would take it upon themselves to develop a sit-lie ordinance without first "taking the pulse of the Council on this issue. Clearly, this is a flawed ordinance, and one that the people of Salem are against. Please drop this ordinance, and find a better solution that doesn't criminalize homelessness."
Gordon Roth, Ward 5, also a WU law student, also there to support the child-friendly cities initiative, said he felt compelled to speak about the ordinance bill. He said the bill was anti-homeless, and, as "the homeless are us", it was also anti-elderly, anti-child, anti-veteran, anti-disabled, anti-mentally ill, etc. He pointed out the contrast between the one person who spoke tepidly in favor of the ordinance [Nick Williams], versus the passion of those speaking out against it. He said the latter were all saying, in essence, that human dignity is more important than "aesthetics or profits." And, the fact that the Council was trying and failing to help people get off the streets does not mean they have permission to enact laws that attack and target the most vulnerable among us. He urged the Council to vote no on the ordinance bill.
Audrey Schackel was ready to assume the Council was not going to enact the ordinance, and wanted to talk about the City doing more to improve toilet facilities for the homeless.
Ken Hetsel, Ward 3, likewise spoke about the need for toilet facilities for the homeless.
Jamie Brasington said she was there as a survivor of childhood homelessness, and said "the divide" between the City's child and homeless policies -- thinking of
Finally, three hours in to the evening, the Council reached Ordinance Bill 22-17, and the Mayor called on Chief Moore to tell the Council "what this ordinance says." The Chief then spoke for several minutes, in an effort to reassure everyone the ordinance was not what everyone thought it was.
|Chief Jerry Moore|
He spoke about having "empathy" for and responsibility to the members of the community who feel victimized. He said ordinances similar to the one being proposed "work fairly well" in other "major cities", which he did not name. About the notion that people's so-called fears of "the homeless" are based largely on misconceptions, he said, without irony, that "perception is reality", meaning, people act on their fears, whether or not they have any basis in reality, and that's why the ordinance is needed.
After much discussion, a motion by Councilor Andersen to reject the motion outright and authorize the Mayor to create a task force to "study homelessness" passed unanimously, with a caution from Councilor Kaser to narrow the scope of the task force to something deliverable. The Mayor asked to have a month to think about it, and report back with a proposal, which was agreed to.
So, Salem's nascent sit-lie law is dead, and another task force is about to be born. Let's hope this one delivers something real, however modest. Developing a standards and methods for responding to so-called "quality of life" complaints involving people experiencing homelessness would be a good start.
In December, the City Council repealed SRC 95.560 (Vagrancy) by Ordinance 25-17, effective 1/1/18. See "DHSTF misled on need to 'repeal codes'."