Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sidewalk Management Plan? No Thanks.

The mayor's office here in Portland is hell-bent of cleaning the panhandlers off the sidewalks of the city. Last year their "sit-lie" law, which made it illegal to sit or lay down on the sidewalk, was tossed out of court as unconstitutional. This year, under the guise of making the sidewalks usable for the disabled, the mayor has introduced his new Sidewalk Management Plan, which proposes a "sidewalk usage framework based on the Americans With Disabilities Act". I submitted the following letter to the mayor's team:

I use a wheelchair almost every day in downtown Portland. Though I have to steer around many obstacles in the course of my day (people, cafe tables, MANY roots and holes, etc) I am not troubled by that. It is part of living in a vibrant city.

I think this initiative is a way to push back the homeless under the guise of concern for the wheelchair users, and to that I say no thank you. My path is obstructed FAR more often by your "permitted" cafe tables (which spill out almost to the curb sometimes and are combined with padlocked bicycles and sandwich board advertisements to make an impassable mess) than by any homeless folks or panhandlers.

If you allow cafes to block my path if they get a permit, will you also allow a permit for a homeless person to sit in the shade and hold a sign. If it's raining, would he need a permit to huddle against the wall to keep his sleeping bag dry? Would that permit be administratively and financially accessible to a person with that functional and financial capacity?

I do not want my city to be a tourist/shopper monoculture. I do not want you behaving in unjust ways in my name. If a homeless man is in my way, I am fine asking him to move. I don't need your new initiative to shove him into the river for me.

I have recently been working on a series of photographs based on a conversation I had with a panhandler during which he described the experience. "The worst part is that nobody looks you in the eye. Even when they give you something they won't look at you. It's like I'm a hole in the sidewalk." This is a sample shot but the whole series can be seen here.

In the spirit of support for my brothers and sisters on the street, I am offering for sale the series of photographs for $300. I will also sell individual prints for $50. All proceeds will be donated to the Sisters of the Road to support their advocacy on behalf of the homeless.

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