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December 11th, 2013 ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT | News Stories
 

Cold Dreams

Residents of Right 2 Dream Too question Mayor Charlie Hales’ offer to move them inside.

news2_4006CHILLED OUT: A Right 2 Dream Too resident who calls himself Pork Chop (left) waits outside the homeless camp with his bicycle. He was one of 17 people who stayed at the camp in sub-freezing temperatures on Dec. 8. - IMAGE: Emma Browne
It’s a quarter to 9 on the coldest night so far this year, and a 64-year-old man named Misha waits for a turn to sleep in a tent with strangers.

Right 2 Dream Too—the iconic homeless camp at the corner of Northwest 4th Avenue and Burnside Street—will soon open for overnight campers. Misha, a blue nylon sleeping bag strapped to his backpack, will be one of 17 people who will sleep in 17-degree weather. 

Misha, with a white beard and without bottom teeth, has lived on the street since this summer when he couldn’t afford rent. He camped in Southwest Portland’s Duniway Lilac Garden until city park rangers kicked him out. 

Misha likes staying at Right 2 Dream Too but likes the idea of Mayor Charlie Hales’ offer to move the camp into an Old Town warehouse even more.

“Any place is better than being out on the street,” Misha says. But he adds that the change poses a risk, especially if the camp closes during the transition.

“I hope they don’t move in January or February.”

Hales announced Dec. 4 he had secured a warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt St. as a new home for Right 2 Dream Too, which has been locked in a standoff with city leaders for two years. 

The proposal gives Hales the chance to claim a much-needed win on homelessness, after he ordered police to sweep sidewalks clear of campers in August.

It also comes with big risks for both sides. The city would pay $150,000 to rent the warehouse for 15 months to move the self-policed homeless camp indoors and out of sight. Right 2 Dream Too would lose the visibility it’s enjoyed next to the Chinatown Gate. 

WW visited the camp this weekend. Some residents said they like the thought of being inside. But others worry the mayor is using them as pawns in a political gambit.

“We’re not saying it wouldn’t be awesome to be inside,” says Amber Dunk, a Right 2 Dream Too board member who says she’s speaking for herself, not the camp. “I’m cold all the time.”

But Dunk says the $10,000 the city would spend a month on renting the Old Town warehouse could be better spent on creating more camps like Right 2 Dream Too. “If you replicated this model, you could get 1,000 people off the streets,” she says.

Property owner Michael Wright has been in a long-standing dispute with the city over the empty lot, and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz in late August proposed moving the camp to city property under the west end of the Broadway Bridge.

Hales stepped in and took the issue away from Fritz after Pearl District developers and property owners complained. 

The mayor told reporters last week his offer to move Right 2 Dream Too should be an easy choice.

“Go outside today and tell me that living in a tent in Portland, Oregon, in the winter is a good solution,” Hales said. “Here’s an opportunity to get 80 people inside.”

Right 2 Dream Too leaders, after hinting they wouldn’t accept the deal, now say they are negotiating with the city. Wright worries the camp would have no place to go once the warehouse lease ran out.

“My happiest outcome would be that they find a location that works for a long period of time,” Wright says. “But I’m skeptical that will happen.”

Hales staffer Josh Alpert says the move indoors would give the camp time to make long-term plans.

“If this building can’t work out for some reason, we’re not going to stop looking,” Alpert says. “We’re committed.” 

On the night of Dec. 8—when temperatures dropped to 14 degrees before dawn—most of the 80 people who usually sleep at Right 2 Dream Too had already moved to warming shelters.

The 17 people who stayed quickly bundled up in their blankets and sleeping bags. One, who calls himself Dikweed, says Hales’ offer is cynical.

“We have to work with him,” Dikweed says. “But he’s near useless.”

Another resident, who calls himself Pork Chop, says he came to Portland two weeks ago, after Arizona police shut down his medical marijuana-growing operation.

He says the smell of having the camp indoors would be awful, and Right 2 Dream Too would lose the visibility that brings in donations of food and bottled water. 

“Keep it small and simple,” Pork Chop says. “Make it big, it gets stupid.”

He isn’t impressed by Hales’ argument that a warm warehouse is better than a cold campsite. 

“Let the mayor come out here and sleep,” Pork Chop says. “I’ll sleep next to him.” 

WW staff writer Aaron Mesh contributed to this story.

 
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