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Seven protesters arrested at Gresham council meeting


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Pastor Steve Kimes is led away by Gresham Police officers Tuesday after being arrested in Gresham City Council Chambers during a protest against the city's homelessness policies. Homeless man John Pierce, who earlier shared his story with the council, stands in front of Kimes.Seven protesters were arrested and accused of disorderly conduct at a Gresham Council Meeting Tuesday, March 15, after demanding that the city re-open a portion of the Springwater Trail to homeless camps.

The city closed off a 60-acre portion known as Gresham Woods about three weeks ago, citing severe environmental destruction of riparian area along Johnson Creek. Residents living along the trail also asked the city for this action, saying they felt threatened by homeless camps in the woods.

Since the closure, many homeless people and groups that advocate for the homeless have spoken out against the action, pointing out that there are no overnight shelters in Gresham for the homeless to stay.

Council members said they offered to meet with some of the leaders of the protest, namely Steve Kimes and Chris Cozzetto, but both declined the offer.

Police arrested both Kimes, who is a pastor and director at Anawim Christian Community, a homeless day shelter and church, and Cozzetto, who organized the protest, among others.

The protest was organized because of an item on the city council’s consent agenda. For lay people, the consent agenda typically contains non-controversial items because neither council discussion nor public comment is held before the council votes.

The item in question is an amendment to a portion of the city code that allows the city manager to close a public park or trail.

Elizabeth Coffey, spokeswoman for the city, said changes being voted on in the consent agenda were “minor” and “to provide clarity.”

Prior to the arrests, many homeless used the public comment portion of the meeting to ask the city council to work with them on setting up spaces that they would be allowed to camp.

“Trying to push people to Portland is not a strategy that works,” Kimes said. “It is time for Gresham to recognize that the homeless are citizens and to treat them as such.”

Dave Miller said he’s been a resident in Gresham for 31 years and was homeless for about six years.

“Not all of us are bad,” Miller said. “Take a look at us before judging. Respect us because we are a part of this community.”

Johnathan Pierce, a resident of Gresham, gave emotional testimony about being homeless with his wife and child.

“Nobody wants to help the homeless because they’re so stereotyped,” Pierce said. He added that he tried to go to the family homeless shelter that was recently relocated from Gresham to Portland, but didn’t stay because it was so packed.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Protestors shout at police and city councilors Tuesday during a protest at Gresham City Hall against the city's homelessness policies. “We figured being in the car would be better than the shelter,” Pierce said, “People need help out here.”

When the public comment portion of the meeting finished, Kimes led the groups in chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we need shelter, not more hate!” and “Look up, look down, discrimination all around!”

As the yelling grew louder, Police Chief Craig Junginger called for police officers to come in and arrest the protesters.

After seven people were arrested, most of the other protesters left and the city council resumed its meeting,

“The sad thing about what happened is it was a huge missed opportunity,” said Councilor Karylinn Echols. “They asked us to listen and respect them and I think that goes both ways. Several of them were heard saying they wanted to be arrested. They had an agenda and unfortunately the really salient, important pieces of information they were sharing got lost because of all the chaos they were creating.”

View a photo slideshow of the protest below.


Below are links to video clips from the protest: