While the recent article in the LA Times (Neighborhood advocates or vigilantes? A group in Portland makes life tougher for the homeless) is biased, contextually blind and misinformed, it does provide Montavilla Initiative an opportunity to speak to issues that affect not only our neighborhood but all of Portland and communities all across our nation. Thank you Thacher Schmid.
Mr. Schmid wants you to know that some of our MI members participate in neighborhood walking patrols. It’s true. There are at least 8 other patrol groups in our neighborhood, but we are unable to answer for the actions of anyone but ourselves. We support a patrol that reaches out to the homeless community, including doing cleanups, providing food, clothing and pointing to transition services. Through this outreach we have spent hundreds of hours talking to people living in our public spaces. Some, we have helped to get off the street and have even brought some of them into our homes. We also care a lot about public safety. We advocate for law-enforcement and emergency services for all residents. Patrols have collaborated with police and emergency services to respond to assaults, thefts and fires in progress, while neighbors sleep. Especially, and most controversially, these patrols have spotlighted the unsanitary conditions and health risks, harassment, crime and deadly violence to which people are subjected, who live outside in the city.
Our neighborhood, no matter what the author claims, is more diverse than most Portland neighborhoods. It is made up of a mix of incomes, including minimum wage earners and blue collar workers. Property values are well below the city average. There has been a nearly 50% increase in crime in the last few years. All members of our community (long time residents, newcomers to the city, immigrants, the housed and unhoused) are being robbed and vandalized and the City of Portland has decided to do too little about it. Portlanders are given mixed messages, with the mayor’s office insisting that all laws are being enforced but police officers saying that they are not given the power to arrest criminals. Meanwhile, the District Attorney claims they cannot effectively prosecute those who are arrested. Neighborhoods are generally left to their own devices – but, we advocate compassion and law enforcement as the most effective measures against vigilantism.
We networked with other neighborhoods to start the city-wide Enough is Enough neighborhood livability campaign which garnered 7000 signatures from Portlanders. Our once clean, welcoming city is littered with graffiti, trash and hazardous waste. Portland churches, offices and businesses cannot count on help from law enforcement to protect their property and provide a clean and safe entrance for their visitors. Vacant homes become rotten cores of crime, decaying filth, and fire hazards on their blocks. We aren’t the only people living here who are fed up with garbage, pilfering, break-ins, assaults and robberies. Ours isn’t the only neighborhood organizing to advocate for sanitation and responsible law enforcement.
Mr. Schmid’s article highlights a needle exchange located in the Montavilla neighborhood, part of a city-wide harm reduction program. Neighbors complained that the site had declined into a hub for anti-social behavior and property crimes. Some of our members joined a patrol one evening, to stand across the street in order to verify complaints from neighbors that the program had become a threat to public safety, who cited needles and human waste in neighbors’ yards, a large vehicle hosting drug deals in the parking lot of the exchange, heroin users shooting up and passing out and then driving off intoxicated, people urinating and defecating in public, clients shooting up in neighbors’ yards, even having sex on a neighbor’s front porch.
We observed that the exchange was not providing safety or adequate oversight, or even addiction services, to its clients. Out of every eight nights the needle exchange runs, there was only one night that a drug counselor was present. On the night that the author refers to, our group was threatened with physical violence and warned that we would not be safe in our homes, a woman standing on the street in our group was called a “n%gger b%tch”, because we were present to see that instead of a needle exchange this site had become a bazaar for dealers of heroin and meth, and an unsanitary, unsafe, public injection site right under the nose of county and city workers. We have weathered irresponsible, cruel and false accusations, even from powerful public officials who ignorantly repeat malicious rumors, because we made that unneighborly, intolerable behavior around the needle exchange known.
We are a diverse group from different economic, racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Our members include liberals and conservatives and everything in between. What brings us together is that we want to make a positive difference for everyone in the Montavilla neighborhood. We welcome dialogue about the problems facing our city and we are enthusiastic about welcoming volunteers, and networking with other neighborhoods and agencies who are offering help and solutions. We are proud of our community and we stand up for the courage, good will and good work of our neighbors.