For the fourth night in a row Saturday, advocates and homeless people living in Portland who are demanding improved services for the city’s unsheltered population camped on the steps of Portland City Hall and distributed food, clothing and essential items to dozens of people who have no other place to go.

The encampment sprang from the increasing pressure the coronavirus has placed on the already-strained network of social services and public, indoor spaces in the city, which supports hundreds of the state’s most vulnerable. It follows the closure of the Preble Street Resource Center’s day shelter, an epicenter of support for people with nowhere else to turn, the city’s public library, and other public spaces that were a refuge for the city’s unsheltered population before the pandemic.

With fewer places to spend time during the day, many homeless people have been congregating in the shade in Deering Oaks, drawing increased complaints from passers-by. Preble Street Resource Center was distributing food and offering services in the park until the city issued a cease-and-desist order, demanding the organization obtain a permit to hold a gathering in a public space, according to Preble Street.

The City Council on Monday plans to hold a workshop meeting to discuss homelessness in the city. The agenda says there will be a 6 p.m. public comment period before the workshop begins.

On Friday, organizers held a press conference and released a sweeping list of demands, included defunding the police and reallocating money for essential services, like mental health care. They also called for the city to decriminalize camping out by unsheltered people, establish overdose prevention sites, make plans for permanent affordable housing led by impacted people, and extend an eviction freeze.

In response, the city on Friday  released a statement highlighting the nearly 900 units of low-income and mixed-income housing units that are in the development pipeline, some of which are spurred by tax incentive programs, while others are proposed on city-owned properties that prioritize affordability.

The City Hall the encampment is part protest, part community assistance effort run entirely by volunteers and powered by donations. Its organizers are working to supply what they see as the urgent need for not only food and support, but for a change in the way residents and city leaders approach their social responsibility to their fellow citizens and constituents.

“It’s not that it’s a bunch of people camping on the street, looking for free stuff,” said Jess Falero, 23, who has been homeless on and off for the past five years and has most recently been living in Florence House. “It’s that we know there’s a better way to take care of people.”

In a way, the camp is a living indictment of society’s failings, said Falero, who uses “they” as a pronoun. Childhood trauma, left untreated among people with few resources, compounds over years and decades, they said.

Falero, who took drags on a cigarette during a rare break Saturday evening to speak to a reporter, said that each day, the group has become more organized. A two-way radio was pinned to Falero’s chest, used to stay in touch with volunteers who keep watch over the people camped out. Housed volunteers from around the city, and even from out of state, rotated in and out of the area. Three canopies on the plaza provide clothing, essential toiletries, food and medical assistance.

Signs point the way to assistance – the opiate overdose drug Narcan is available at the medical tent, one said. Other placards urge the camp’s inhabitants not to lose sight of their goals: Remember who you’re fighting for, read one sharpie message, inked on a span of plywood.

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