Group pushes action on Portland police, homelessness
A new group has begun airing TV and digital ads to pressure Portland City Hall to "end unsheltered homelessness" downtown, clean up garbage, and fund police body cameras while hiring more officers.
"Let's save the city we love," says the group's ad.
The two high-powered political consultants shaping the effort, Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper, worked on the successful opposition campaign to the Metro transportation tax last fall.
Calling themselves People for Portland, the effort's website has posted an array of videos along with striking poll findings:
• 84% of those polled say elected officials need to move faster on homelessness.
• 85% support replacing street camping with "safe villages" for houseless people.
• 84% support prosecuting rioters "using the protests as cover for property damage and violence."
The two consultants say the group stakes out a moderate middle ground, and elected officials need to listen.
The Portland Tribune's interview of the consultants has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tribune: Why are you doing this?
Lavey: "To create a platform for grassroots Portlanders to be able to take action in pushing elected officials at all levels much harder, to move much faster on policy changes related to homelessness, public safety, and garbage cleanup.
"Once we did the public opinion research and saw how hard the wind was blowing against elected officials on a number of these key issues, we decided that our best opportunity to drive change here was to get more people involved.
Elected officials are just moving too slowly, and Portland is at a fragile point. Cities are not foregone conclusions that they will always be safe and growing.
Elected officials at all levels are using words like "crisis" and "emergency" very frequently. The problem is, they are not leading, and the government is not responding, with emergency-level and crisis-level activity
"The wind is blowing dramatically in the direction of change, urgency and action. "And the elected officials need to respond to that."
Looper: "The runway we have to fix Portland is a lot shorter than the public discussion and political world believes it is.
"The political world believes that this thing took decades to get this bad; it's going to take us another decade to get out of it — if they believe it's going to get out of it. And what the experts will tell you is that when you think about Portland, as an economic and social magnet for where people go for their entertainment for their social events and whether or not people are going to renew their leases and keep their businesses afloat, we've got maybe two years, maybe, before we watch the city of Portland become excoriated and the action moved to the suburbs like it has in St. Louis, in Cleveland, in Baltimore, in so many cities around the country.
"We don't have a lot of time to fix this. And all I see is time being wasted."
Tribune: Why are you keeping funders secret?
Looper: "The attempt from left and right to come together to try to find a middle way forward, you would think would be applauded. But it's not going to be always applauded. And many people are nervous, you know, about wanting to help the city they love, but not have somebody on their porch. And so in much the same way that Planned Parenthood and Right To Life, aren't forced to disclose their donors, because they do issue advocacy and everybody knows what the issue is, we're in that same thing.
"We're not doing direct lobbying behind the scenes. We're letting the people speak in a public platform."
Tribune: When you talk about ending unsheltered homelessness, that will sound to many people a lot like sweeps, making the the visible evidence of our society's situation invisible.
Looper: "That is absolutely not what we're looking to do. Most everybody agrees that people ought not to be so desperate as to not have a safe and sanitary place to sleep at night. We're looking for folks to be provided actually safe and sanitary places to at least temporarily be housed, while the long term solution gets addressed. We understand that you don't solve homelessness overnight, but, when we talk about this being a humanitarian crisis, it means we need to be doing the kinds of things that we'd be doing if this was an earthquake or a flood.
"I helped to pass the measure last year to get $2.5. billion in homeless services. I made sure that thing got on the ballot and I ran the campaign for it. The fact of the matter is government is awash in money right now. The problem is not money, and they don't need to stop doing any one thing to do another. What they need to do is understand that this is a crisis. You keep calling it a crisis, but you're not acting like it."
Tribune: You talk about replacing elected officials if they do not act more quickly. That sounds like a threat.
Lavey: "A little bit recent history here, let's go back six years. Charlie Hales did not run for re-election after having the homeless (issue), and the public camping thing blow up in his face. Steve Novick, an incumbent, not re-elected. Chloe Eudaly, an incumbent not re-elected. The mayor re-elected with less than 50% of the vote. So there's a wind blowing here in the city.
"What Kevin and I are trying to do is create an environment of an election day every day, our voters can weigh in contacted through emails, text and phone calls to their elected officials, so that every day they're feeling the heat and the pressure to act with greater urgency, more action and more innovation to solve these most pressing problems."
Tribune: You've got well funded backers. What do you say to people that are skeptical that the plight of the people out there is your priority.
Lavey: "The reality is when you get numbers as high as you see in this polling, that's a broad cross-section of people. This is a gale force wind on these issues, and the relationship of the issues to the accountability of the elected officials. And so I don't think it's a paid minority opinion that's driving this. This is majority point of view."
The People for Portland website can be found at peopleforportland.org.
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