Homeless speak out at Gresham City Council meeting
Citizens criticize, praise city's actions to close off Gresham Woods
A homeless population bubbling with anger over the city of Greshams recent move to fence off an area along the Springwater Trail closing it to campers and the general public hijacked Tuesday night's City Council meeting to get their stories heard.
The conference center in City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway, was standing-room only during the meeting. Some held signs that read Show compassion and No Justice, No Peace.
For nearly an hour, the council heard stories from homeless people who say they've been deeply affected by the city's actions.
This is my home. Ive been here for 17 years of my life. Why should I have to move? said Melanie Rosenthal. I can say that I am honestly trying to work toward a better future and most of us in this room are doing that. Most of the parks and recreation areas shouldnt be taken up like that, but at the same time, where do we have to go? Honestly, there is no where else for us to go.
The orange plastic fence, which cost the city $12,000, has been in place for about two weeks, closing a 60-acre parcel along the trail known as Gresham Woods. City officials said $350,000 worth of restoration work was destroyed. In the first days of the fence going up, it was vandalized and torn down. On Friday, March 4, police found 36 people trespassing, gave warnings to eight of them and arrested another three.
Some homeowners along the Springwater Trail praised the city for attempting to clear the area of campers.
I lived adjacent to the Gresham Woods for 43 years and would like to thank all the council members for taking a tour and seeing the destruction, said Scott Moulton. He said a group of so-called sovereign citizens had set up camp just across Johnson Creek and has threatened the life of everyone in my family at our home while we were on our deck. "Its not right."
John Macklin, a neighbor of Moultons, also thanked the council for fencing off Gresham Woods.
As you know, this was not a few tents tucked in here and there, Macklin said. Theres a lot of solutions to address the homeless issue, but abandoning our open spaces and watching the city atmosphere go down the drain and having our livability ruined is not a solution at all. Thank you for taking some action instead of no action like other cities.
But criticism continued to flow from those who were displaced.
Steve Kimes, who runs Anawim Christian Community, a church and day shelter for the homeless, criticized the city for its sweeps of Gresham Woods.
Tell them to move, and you dont have a place to move them to, what youre actually telling them is they dont have a right to exist, Kimes said. When you ticket people for sleeping, youre telling them that they dont have a right to sleep.
The thing is that the plans that have been made for the homeless havent been made with the homeless," Kimes continued. "The Gresham Woods could have been picked up, and it could have been a really nice place if the homeless had been engaged instead of moved. When you treat people like citizens, they will act like citizens. When you treat people like criminals, they will act like criminals.
At one point, Chris Cozzetto, who runs a group called Powell Valley Green Collective and said he organized the dozens who came to the meeting, stood up and yelled at the councilors that they were not treating Gresham citizens fairly.
These people here are disadvantaged," he said. "Unlike the city of Gresham, who can change rules and codes whenever they feel like when it doesnt suit their needs, these citizens of your city dont have this same privilege. When things dont work, they can just change the laws and change the rules. Its not acceptable that the city can just stand up and say, Were going to fence off this area.'"
I want you to look at these people and consider their stories, Cozzetto added, prompting a response from Mayor Shane Bemis.
Youre assuming that we havent, Bemis fired back, to which someone in the audience yelled Bull----!
One woman chimed in, Can you look over here? Were humans.
Kif Davis, who held a sign that read Fight the Sweeps, suggested that the city buy up homes that banks have foreclosed upon to house the homeless.
Theres plenty of money, and you guys need to fix the problem. Davis said.
Jessie Sponberg, who is running for mayor of Portland, encouraged Gresham not to make the same mistakes he believes that city has made.
I came here today to give you guys a warning from the future, Sponberg said. Ten years ago I was going to a meeting very similar to this in Portland and 10 years later what have we in Portland learned? We learned putting up orange fences doesnt work. We learned sweeps don't work. In 2006, these arent bums and bag ladies and hobos. These are economic refugees.
"These are families with children and they are economic refugees," the candidate added, "and they need economic refugee settlements in live in.
Below is a photo gallery from Monday's council meeting at Gresham City Hall.
OUTLOOK PHOTOS: JOSH KULLA