Clean sweep? Pitch A Tent reminds parade-goers of homeless
Chris Drake has been sleeping in shelters and on the streets of Portland for four months.
"I tried to fight my way through regular society — and failed miserably," the Georgia native says with a hint of southern twang. "Not all of us are looking for drugs and liquor. Some of us are trying to survive or get back on our feet."
And for a night, at least, Drake was joined by a few friends.
Dozens of tents sprouted up at 401 S.W. Washington St. in downtown Portland during the eighth-annual Pitch A Tent, an all-night protest against city policies that activists say "criminalize" those with nowhere else to go.
The event beginning on Friday, June 8, is a commentary on two traditions: the exemption that allows onlookers to rough it under the stars the night before the Grand Floral Parade — and the round-up of alleged drug users and dealers that precedes the peak of the Rose Festival.
Portland Police say 55 people were snared and about 50 grams of various illegal narcotics and a gun were confiscated during this year's enforcement mission, which ran from June 5 to June 7 in Old Town Chinatown and the South Park Blocks.
But prominent activist Ibrahim Mubarak — who organizes Pitch A Tent through his group Right 2 Survive — argues the sweeps are a form of gentrification.
"What crime is somebody committing while they sleep?" he asks. "People have rights, no matter what social status they're at."
Mubarak wants to see more tiny homes and a higher minimum wage locally. He has high hopes for City Council candidates like Jo Ann Hardesty, but says Mayor Ted Wheeler is in it "for the people who give him money."
"The politicians need to pay attention to what's going on outside their window," he comments.
Alisa Christensen was one of about 100 people camping out at Pitch A Tent, which featured a cookout and lively music performances, despite the drizzle. The Sellwood resident has been here every year since the first protest in 2011 and says she'd welcome a homeless shelter in her neighborhood.
"We need them all over the city," she explains. "The homeless people aren't the evil monsters you think they are. They're your neighbors, your friends."
As for Drake, it's been a rough road since the 23-year-old left home at age 18. Drake says homeless people in Savannah aren't allowed to sleep on the streets, so people live in the forest and receive services there. He says the shelters there did not accept his gender identity or the identity of his wife, Tina.
"Here, they understand that trans men are men. Trans women are women. Don't try to force them to be something they're not!" he emphasized. "I like that here."
Then it was back to dodging raindrops and inflating an air mattress inside the tent the couple shares. When the parade marches by, they'll have front row seats.