Neighbors say Right 2 Dream Too could attract wrong crowd

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ibrahim Mubarak, co-founder of the Right 2 Dream Too Old Town camp, stands under the Broadway Bridge where the homeless group plans to move as part of a city deal negotiated during the past few weeks. One of the more interesting meetings residents of Station Place Tower have had in recent years took place two weeks ago. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz was working toward a deal to move the Right 2 Dream Too homeless campground from its highly visible site on West Burnside Street.

The spot her staff had identified as the new home for Right 2 Dream Too, while tucked away from public view under the west end of the Broadway Bridge, is about 30 paces from Station Place Tower, an affordable housing apartment building for more than 200 senior citizens. At the meeting, Fritz outlined her plans to about 60 of the residents.

Many in the group expressed sentiments similar to those of Nancy Snyder, who has lived in Station Place Tower for seven years.

“I feel they have a right to be somewhere, but I don’t feel it’s good for them or for us,” Snyder says.

Snyder is 64 and disabled, and says the Pearl District address for Station Place belies the status of many of its residents. Many live on fixed incomes. A number, she says, suffer from dementia and wander outside the building in vulnerable states. Snyder says she’s just fortunate to have been offered an apartment at Station Place.

“I’m no more privileged than they are,” she says, referring to the Right 2 Dream Too residents.

Fritz was instrumental this week in securing an agreement to move the Old Town homeless “rest area” to the new city-owned parking lot under the bridge’s ramp. The deal was reached after weeks of negotiations and calls for a one-year lease on the site by Right 2 Dream Too. As part of the deal, the city also dropped more than $20,000 in fines against the group for camping in an urban area.

Find a better place

According to Snyder, Station Place residents have little choice but to walk under the Broadway Bridge on their routes to Union Station or MAX stops, which will bring them in contact with Right 2 Dream Too residents. Snyder’s not worried abut the Right 2 Dream Too residents so much as others who might be attracted to the area.

She says many of the Station Place residents have sent angry emails since the meeting with Fritz, whom she says told the group they could not always choose their neighbors.

“You can’t choose your neighbors but we chose our neighborhood,” Snyder says.

Barbara Weerth, another disabled Station Place resident, says she will feel less safe but she also doesn’t think the new Right 2 Dream Too site, with its lack of sunlight, abundant pigeon poop and exhaust fumes is safe for the homeless residents.

“I find it absurd that in a city this size they couldn’t find a better place than under a bridge ramp,” Weerth says.

A few Station Place residents, including John Hubbird, who has volunteered at Dignity Village, say Right 2 Dream Too deserves its new site based on the group’s record. “That needs to be honored and respected,” Hubbird says.

Fritz and Right 2 Dream Too leader Ibrahim Mubarak say the move might improve the area underneath the Broadway Bridge. They point to Right 2 Dream Too’s spotless record on West Burnside Street near the Chinatown Gate, where not only have they not had trouble with police, but police have commended them for acting as good neighbors and assisting with occasional Old Town dust-ups.

Mubarak says Right 2 Dream Too contributed to making Old Town’s streets safer, not more dangerous. Strict rules against drinking, drugs and violence are enforced at the campground. On a larger scale, he points to the number of homeless people whose lives were bettered after stays at Right 2 Dream Too, claiming 71 found housing and 72 found jobs. Also, about 100 people a night who would have been sleeping on the streets have instead been inside Right 2 Dream Too.

Mubarak acknowledges that the West Burnside location kept Right 2 Dream Too residents under constant public scrutiny. But he doesn’t think the shadowy new location will make a difference in behavior at the campground. In fact, he says the lack of constant attention could be a boon.

“We’ll be more relaxed and can build a better campground,” Mubarak says. And he doesn’t think Right 2 Dream Too will truly escape attention. “The city is going to come by and be Peeping Toms, and the neighborhood association too,” he says.

Old Town options

On Aug. 28, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association wrote a letter to Fritz objecting to “encampment in our neighborhood or any other neighborhood of the city.”

The association decried the lack of public process involved in moving Right 2 Dream Too to its new site.

Mubarak has throughout the life of Right 2 Dream Too insisted that the facility is not an encampment or campground. He calls it a rest area. Among the reasons, he says, is that a city ordinance allows for two homeless campgrounds. There’s currently only one, Dignity Village, near Portland International Airport. He does not want Right 2 Dream Too to be considered the second. In fact, Mubarak says that he would like to see the Right 2 Dream Too model replicated in a number of different parts of the city.

“If they want to call us a campsite all right, but we know what we are,” Mubarak says.

Fritz on Monday called the new Right 2 Dream Too site a “pilot project.”

A settlement agreement signed by the property owners, Right 2 Dream Too representatives and Fritz is notable for what it doesn’t say as much as for what it does. Right 2 Dream Too gets its new site under the Broadway Bridge. A lawsuit filed by Right 2 Dream Too and the property owners against the city will be dismissed. The Old Town property owners get more than $20,000 in city fines erased.

But nowhere does the document say what the property owners, led by Michael Wright, can and cannot do with the land once Right 2 Dream Too departs.

Wright is being evasive about the site’s future. He says Fritz has told him the city is strongly interested in purchasing his property. He says he paid about $1 million for the site nearly 30 years ago, and he figures he’ll take $2 million for it now. But if the city doesn’t make him that offer, he has uses planned for the property “that may be of benefit to other people.”

The Right 2 Dream Too camp sprouted two years ago after the city forced Wright to remove food carts from his property and fined him for having leased his land to the food cart owners. After that, Wright told Dignity Village representatives in early October 2011 that he would let them set up on his West Burnside property for free.

“I’m not going to sit with an empty lot paying taxes on it without doing something with the property,” Wright says. “I have a lot of ideas.”

Attorney Mark Kramer, who represented Right 2 Dream Too and the property owners as a volunteer through the lawsuit and agreement talks, says that two weeks ago Portland Development Commission officials proposed an independent appraisal for the property and offered to buy it from Wright and his partners. Kramer says he thinks the city is genuinely interested in the purchase, and should pursue that course.

Kramer says the settlement stipulates only that Wright cannot locate another overnight campground on the property, but doesn’t bar him from a variety of day uses.

“If PDC and the city know what’s good for them, they’ll make a deal with Michael Wright,” Kramer says.

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