Salem rejects proposal to ban sidewalk sitting

Salem residents spoke out against a proposal to outlaw daytime sitting and lying on city sidewalks during Monday's Salem City Council meeting.

City councilors eventually rejected the proposed ordinance, instead voting that the mayor will establish a task force to study homelessness in downtown and North Salem.

Members of the public voiced concern over the proposed ordinance seen by some as targeting the homeless.

Background: Salem considers outlawing sitting on sidewalks in homeless crackdown

Samantha Klausen said she has lived in the Salem-Keizer area her whole life. Her husband, Alvin Klausen, co-owns the Victory Club taphouse downtown.

She said as someone who depends on downtown being financially successful, she appreciates the city's desire to make the area safer and more livable.

"But to hear that my city is considering a proposal that targets and dehumanizes the most vulnerable part of our population is gut-wrenching," she told city councilors.

"I want to be proud of where I live," she said. "But for the first time in my life, I'm embarrassed by the reputation my city is building."

Nick Williams, chief executive of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, told councilors he walked downtown and talked with businesses Monday afternoon.

The sentiment, he said, was one of compassion for the homeless and that Salem can do more than it already is doing about the issue.

Williams stopped short of vocally supporting the proposed ordinance, but said, "To do nothing is not acceptable. Thank you for trying to do something."

Some residents called the proposal unconstitutional and inhumane.

There was no mention in a staff report to Salem city councilors that in 2009, a Multnomah County Circuit Court ruled such a "sit-lie" ordinance in Portland was unconstitutional because it was at odds with Oregon law.

But in fact, the language in the Salem proposal mirrors parts of Portland's old ordinance.

The Portland ordinance made it illegal to "sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed upon a public sidewalk" in parts of the city between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Salem's proposed ordinance says, "It shall be unlawful for any person to sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed upon a public sidewalk, during the hours of between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m."

City Attorney Dan Atchison, whose office prepared the Salem proposal, declined last week to comment on the Portland ordinance.

City Councilor Chris Hoy, who lives in Salem but works as a chief deputy with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, said in a Sept. 21 statement he respects police officers who are just trying to fix a problem.

But, he said, "I have rarely seen a positive outcome in my almost 29-year law enforcement career when we criminalize the human condition."

On Monday, Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore said the proposal is not about criminalizing being homeless, but rather getting people off the streets and into a place to live.

Kimberly McCullough, a policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said last week these kinds of ordinances violate individuals' rights.

Reach Jonathan Bach by email at jbach@statesmanjournal.com or by phone at 503-399-6714. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMBach and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jonathanbachjournalist/.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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