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 Our View: Rejection Of Median-Strip Panhandling Ban Right Call For Portland, Portland Press Herald

http://tinyurl.com/l6o3gdp

It is estimated that 4,000 homeless people sleep on Portland’s streets. Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales has been taking various measures since last summer to address with Portland’s homeless situation. Mayor Hales has said he wants to crack down on homeless camps by increasing homeless shelters, but has not set any specific amount for pay for shelters.

The Mayor’s anti-camping law allows police to “sweep” homeless  on sidewalks. In a “sweep,” the police discard the homeless’ few possessions, including warm clothing and blankets, in spite of the number of homeless who have frozen to death.

Mayor Hales says this law is not about homelessness but about lawlessness. Unfortunately for Mayor Hales, his actions have galvanized grass roots protesters to head this week towards City Hall with – literally – pitchforks and torches.

To the Portland Police Department’s credit, it responded to the recent extremely cold conditions by moving people to shelter. The Fire Department also did its part to help. Normally around 1,000 shelter beds are available for the homeless, but various agencies, such as the Red Cross, provided 350 more shelter beds.

This will, I hope, give you an idea of the scope of the homeless situation in Portland, the struggle to address it, and set the stage for the case discussed in this post from the Portland Press Herald.  An ordinance forbidding panhandling purportedly to address “public safety” has been struck down by a federal judge in support of the First Amendment. -CCE

There is something disturbing about seeing men and women standing near the roadway holding signs and asking for help. It’s hard to ignore a median-strip panhandler when you are sitting in a car stopped at a red light. It makes some people feel angry, others threatened.

Moving panhandlers off the median strips did not fix any of the real problems of poverty in Portland, but neither does knocking down the ordinance that banned them. City leaders should keep working to address the real problems of homelessness and extreme poverty.

But that’s not enough to override the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal. In his ruling Wednesday, Singal struck down a Portland ordinance that banned standing in median strips by pedestrians as ‘content-based restriction on free speech.’

Judge Singal saw right through the city’s claim that the goal of the ordinance was to protect public safety, correctly pointing out that the ordinance did not prohibit people from posting campaign signs on the medians, which is at least as dangerous as standing still. . . .

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