Tomorrow there's a good chance the Salem City Council will approve a citywide sit-lie ordinance that prohibits sitting and lying on public sidewalks between the hours of 7 am to 9 pm, subject to certain exceptions.
Aimed at homeless people, obviously, this is the most recent attempt to pass a sit-lie ordinance, which so far has failed to get a majority vote from the City Council.
Mayor Bennett really wants to have it passed this time, as a recent Salem Reporter story made clear. Here's an excerpt from "Salem Mayor pushes for 'sit-lie' in the face of increasing uproar over homeless problem downtown."
Each day Mayor Chuck Bennett opens his electronic inbox to a half dozen emails from downtown shoppers and business owners upset about the homeless people residing on sidewalks.
Feeling compelled to act, Bennett is pushing for a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks during the day to deal with the 50 or so people camping in front of Rite Aid on Northeast Liberty Street.
He said the campers have no incentive to move on, and a new city law, recommended by both Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore and City Manager Steve Powers, would provide that.
“There are places that people can go during the day,” Bennett said, citing city parks, the library and day rooms at The ARCHES Project and Union Gospel Mission.
I believe Councilor Tom Andersen is out of the country, so Bennett needs five of the eight other members of the City Council to vote "aye" on the sit-lie ordinance. A plausible scenario is that Bennett, Jim Lewis, Brad Nanke, Cara Kaser, and Chris Hoy provide those votes.
It's a difficult decision. I looked through the public comments received so far on this agenda item. Opinions seemed split fairly evenly between those who favor the sit-lie ordinance and those who oppose it.
The way I see it, the proposed ordinance is the result of a bunch of "can'ts" -- all of which have merit, but many of them are contradictory.
Homeless people can't be allowed to drive visitors away from downtown Salem businesses.
Homeless people can't be treated like second-class citizens.
Homeless people can't be allowed to camp on public property.
Homeless people can't be the scapegoats of societal income inequality.
Homeless people can't litter downtown with their belongings, trash, and excrement.
Homeless people can't be shunted from place to place at the whim of city officials.
Homeless people can't be refused a safe place to sleep.
Probably there are more can'ts that i haven't thought of, and I readily admit that these brief one-liners don't capture the breadth and complexity of Salem's homeless problem.
I share them simply because I've got a lot of sympathy for everybody involved: the homeless; social service agencies; police; downtown businesses; visitors to downtown; city staff; the City Council; those who live and work downtown.
Seemingly there is no way to please everybody. If the City Council passes the sit-lie ordinance tomorrow, lots of people will be upset. If the City Council rejects the sit-lie ordinance, lots of other people will be upset.
I don't know what the City Council should do. If it decides to approve the sit-lie ordinance, seemingly the current ban on homeless camps should be lifted to some extent -- such as by allowing camping in Marion Square Park, as was suggested by several people who submitted testimony on the proposed ordinance.
Obviously the homeless need some place to go between 7 am and 9 pm. If the City of Salem doesn't offer that place, the sit-lie ordinance is going to lead to more unintended consequences, and nobody wants that to happen.