Seven months ago, after the encampments of Occupy Portland were shut down, a 24/7 vigil outside of City Hall was set up to bring light to the ban on camping and Portland’s serious homelessness issues. The Vigil has been occupied all day, all week since that time. For 33 days now Cameron Whitten, a former mayoral candidate and Occupy Portland activist extraordinaire, has been living at the Vigil and partaking in a hunger strike. Read an interview of Whitten from the Portland Mercury here.
Whitten has been advocating for housing justice and the most vulnerable of our community, in particular for the nonprofit organization, Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) Rest Area. A description of R2DToo:
Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) exists to awaken social and political groups to the importance of safe and undisturbed sleep. Our purpose is to create a place where unhoused people can rest or sleep without being rousted by police or private security and without being under the constant threat of violence. We hope to create a cost-effective, self-sustaining model that can be replicated elsewhere.
R2DToo has considerable community support, however the City is continuing to fine the property owners of the site for letting houseless individuals sleep/rest at the location. At the same time they are not bringing those who are houseless to the table to discuss viable solutions. Whitten’s hunger strike is asking City Council to form a citizens panel on homelessness to specifically bring houseless people into the conversation to amend the camping ban and to negotiate for a setting for a transitional housing site.
Whitten is calling for the following:
1. For City Commissioner Dan Saltzman to withdraw the fines on the co-owners of the Right 2 Dream Too Rest Area, and to seek a peaceful resolution for this cost-free solution to homelessness for the remainder of the lease agreement.
2. Creation of a task force composed of concerned citizens and non-profit organizations to find better ways to provide basic city services to those without.
3. Initiation of a dialogue between city officials and representatives of the houseless community to find an alternative to the current ban on camping in the city.
4. Location of a city site capable of providing shelter and basic services for 300 persons.
Portland has the image of a progressive town, but unfortunately the issues of homelessness and housing do not get nearly the amount of attention needed from our media and policymakers. During his hunger strike, Whitten has met with Mayor Sam Adams, the two mayoral candidates Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith, as well as Portland’s City Commissioners. Despite these meetings, City Commissioners have yet to agree to meet any of the actions asked by Whitten and supporters of Portland’s houseless community. Nonetheless, Cameron Whitten’s actions have started to shine a light on these issues and on people typically ignored, who do not have the resources of the Portland Business Alliance to advocate on their behalf.
The media is starting to become more interested in this story as well. The Associated Press ran a story last week, The Oregonian published another piece today, and the Portland Mercury has been covering the story frequently. There are also plans for a mass rally outside of Portland City Hall on Friday, July 20th to (Whitten’s 50th day anniversary of his hunger strike) to further the calls for housing justice in the Rose City.
Follow Cameron Whitten on Twitter for daily updates on the hunger strike.
Consider a donation to Occupy Portland’s 24/7 Vigil outside of City Hall.