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Unions to city: Stop Right 2 Dream Too fines

Some city employees pledge funds for Old Town encampment
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, City union employees called for the city to reverse its decision declaring illegal the Right 2 Dream Too homeless encampment beside the Chinatown Gate on West Burnside Street.

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga surrounding the Right 2 Dream Too homeless encampment unfolded Saturday when some city union employees called for the city to reverse its decision declaring illegal the campsite beside the Chinatown Gate on West Burnside Street.

Portland's Bureau of Development Services has ruled that the campground is out of compliance with city code, and the city has fined the property owners $1,282 per month.

But three unions, including Laborers Local 483, representing city government workers, last week voted to support Right 2 Dream Too, which its founders call a "rest area." The unions asked the city to withdraw the fines.

AFSCME Local 88, which includes many Multnomah County workers, and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 28 also joined the solidarity pledge and donated funds to Right 2 Dream Too.

The three unions painted their symbols on three of the doors that make up the patchwork fence separating Right 2 Dream Too from West Burnside Street.

The Bureau of Development Services has ruled that for Right 2 Dream Too to remain in place it would need to meet the code requirements that govern recreational campgrounds in rural areas.

Right 2 Dream Too organizers say those rules should not apply to a facility that keeps homeless people off the street in the city, and that leases its space from a private property owner.

Megan Hise, communications director for Laborers Local 483, says Saturday's events were timed to run the day of the Rose Festival Starlight parade for a reason. City officials have traditionally allowed residents to stake out camping spots on downtown sidewalks as a means of ensuring favored viewing places for the Rose Festival parades.

"It's to point out the contradiction," Hise says. "The city allows local residents to camp out for pleasure, but they won't allow people to pitch a tent for protection on the streets for survival."

Right 2 Dream Too has called for a Pitch A Tent Night June 8 at its site, encouraging supporters to set up tents along the Rose Parade route to better highlight what its organizers say is the contradiction in city policies.

Limited contact

Bureau of Development Services Manager Mike Liefeld says Right 2 Dream Too representatives have made "limited contact" with bureau staff about meeting code requirements and obtaining legal permits. Liefeld reports that the property owners have paid $3,907 in fines and that the outstanding balance is down to $1,335.

Michael Wright, co-owner of the property leased free of charge to Right 2 Dream Too, in the past has said he would let the campers stay as long as they did not become too big a burden on him. Wright says that he is also pursuing legal action to have the city's fines declared illegal.

Right 2 Dream Too opened in mid-October with about 70 people sleeping in tents hidden behind fences. Police have reported no problems at the site, and nearby property owners have praised the facility as a good neighbor.

Some leaders of the Chinese community, however, have said they believe Right 2 Dream Too is disrespectful of the Chinese community because of its position next to the Chinatown Gate.