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Law keeps downtown vibrant

Two Views • Extend or end the city's 'sit-lie' ordinance?
by: L.E. BASKOW, A man sleeps atop his bags along Southwest Ninth Avenue in downtown Portland as the lunch crowd streams by. A downtown business owner and homeless advocate offer differing views on a controversial ordinance that bans sitting or lying on the city’s sidewalks.

Since opening in downtown Portland in 1903, Central Drug has always prided itself on high-quality customer service and being a part of the community. Today, our staff interacts daily with all types of people who enter our store, and we hear a lot of comments about the state of downtown Portland.

Prior to the passage of the Sidewalk Access for Everyone initiative (which includes a sidewalk obstruction ordinance known as 'sit-lie'), we often heard compliments about our city. But those compliments were quickly followed by concerns about an apparent lack of critical resources for homeless individuals who were highly visible on city sidewalks.

As an independent retail pharmacy, Central Drug is keenly conscious and concerned for those in the community most at risk. In 2003, when the Oregon Health Plan instituted co-pays for those most vulnerable in our population, Central Drug was one of the first pharmacies in the area to offer co-pay assistance due to our direct, daily interactions with individuals in need. Observations derived from these interactions led us to support SAFE and the many services it provides.

Since the implementation of SAFE two years ago, people who are homeless have day access to shelters, which were closed during the day prior to the passage of SAFE. Individuals who are homeless also have access to a number of new, additional services, thanks to funding provided by the city of Portland and funds raised by the Portland Business Alliance. These services include:

Julia West House provides 52 hours of day-services per week and 80-person capacity for showers, coffee, computer training, and lockers.

Transition Projects Inc. has expanded assistance by 15 hours per week with increased shower capacity for 100 people.

Harbor Light's West Women's Shelter now operates 24 hours per day, serving 60 women per day.

Twenty-four-hour restrooms are now available, and 31 new benches have been added in high-pedestrian areas.

The staff members at Central Drug realize how essential it is for downtown to be a vibrant and safe place, which is why our firm also supports the sidewalk obstruction portion of the SAFE initiative. The sit-lie ordinance prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. This ordinance is critical to ensure a solid foundation is set for a positive and friendly business environment. This ordinance is also an important tool for Portland police officers to facilitate a conversation with persons who might be in need.

Now, when travelers enter Central Drug and converse with the staff regarding their observations of the city, often it is noted how friendly the people are and how nice the city is - compliments free from caveats. It is our hope that these individuals continue commenting in this way to their friends and families, as our retail community would greatly benefit from a spike in tourists this summer.

When the Portland City Council reviews the continuation of the SAFE ordinance in September, hopefully the council will vote in favor of the SAFE initiative and its important sidewalk obstruction component to secure a positive foundation for the city of Portland and to provide our most vulnerable population with the services it needs.

Shelley J. Bailey is manager of Central Drug in downtown Portland. She lives in Southwest Portland.