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Is Portland really a Mecca for bums?

My View • Local tolerance for vagrants leaves Rose City visitors uneasy, unhappy
by: Christopher Onstott, A group of street musicians play outside Pioneer Courthouse, technically in a zone off limits to sidewalk sitting. Visitors to Portland complain that the city’s street culture can be aggravating and threatening. Others point proudly to the city’s tolerant makeup.

Regarding Peter Korn's 'Would Rudy Giuliani put up with this?' (Sept. 9), my daughter was visiting Portland from San Diego last July. She has not lived in Portland for more than 12 years, so she eagerly desired a walk in the historic, relaxing and quaint downtown center.

What she/we found was shocking: On two occasions we witnessed men openly urinating in public, needles being passed from person to person, and a feeling of being overrun by filth and garbage. There was not a block that we walked that didn't have dozens of aggressive, obnoxious and smelly panhandlers demanding money.

As she texted her friends in San Diego, telling them of her sadness at seeing what Portland had become, she made eye contact with a bum who stopped her. She recognized him from San Diego, saying this guy and his friends were people who used to sit on the streets of Ocean Beach (a San Diego beach community) and try and bum money when my daughter and her work associates would go for a lunchtime walk.

She struck up a conversation with the man, asking how long he'd been in Portland and why he and his friends were in this city. He answered by saying that Portland had a great reputation for tolerance and actually helped the vagrants to conduct a wide range of illegal activities. He stated that police could do little, and everyone in the growing homeless community was letting friends from other states know what pushovers the elected officials in the city were.

The man sounded moderately educated when he rattled off a list of handouts and benefits provided by the city that actually promoted homelessness, which were never offered in other cities.

He laughed out loud when my daughter asked him if he wanted to return to San Diego. 'Why,' he replied, 'when Portland invites people here to live off the taxpayers?' Then, saying something like, 'Who wants to live in a place that enforces laws? No, Portland is the place to stay, no police, and absolutely stupid politicians!'

He hesitated before concluding with, 'Hey, can you believe it - they're actually going to build places for us to live; this is Mecca for the nation's bums.'

My daughter shook her head when he asked her if that information was worth a buck.

In San Diego a few years ago, city leaders and the business community started a campaign against homelessness that included the following component: Taking a cue from the National Parks that often post signs saying 'Please don't feed the bears,' many businesses in Ocean Beach have posted stickers saying, 'Please don't feed our bums!'

That activity - plus elected officials who actually care for their citizens and strict law enforcement - allows a person to walk for miles in the heart of that city and never witness anything close to what we see in a one-block area of Portland.

What Giuliani did speaks for itself. What our elected officials do also speaks volumes. In Portland, bums and addicts rule the streets, and in City Hall, their cabal of associates 'aid and abet' in the commission of crimes against Portland.

Jim Speirs is a fourth-generation North Portland resident, former instructor at Portland Community College and, for the past six years, the historical editor for the St. Johns Review.