Portland has long struggled with homelessness downtown. The good weather and liberal environment also makes the Northwest a popular place for travelers and transients in the summer.
Two weeks ago, while mouthing off about this or that, I told Susan Nielson of The Oregonian’s Editorial Board about my experiences as a freight-hopper and hitchhiker back when I was young. I said I never thought that I had the right to sleep on city streets, and even if I did, the rules of the road were to just move on if police asked. She invited me to write an essay which is the rare public editorial from me that you see below.
A good traveler knows when it’s time to hit the road
Portland’s downtown remains a fairly livable place by my East Coast standards. But the recent assault on Larry Allen by a skateboard-wielding kid and last December’s battle between street kids and food cart vendors has highlighted that downtown is increasingly cultivating a lawless atmosphere. An overly tolerant policy toward camping on the street and “travelers” is greatly to blame. Now that City Hall has made moves to clear protesters from its front steps, it should go further and enforce bans on camping on public streets. I say this as someone was a bit of a traveler, hitchhiker and freight train hopper back in the day.
In 1994, as a New Jersey-raised young man, I arrived in Portland on a sparkling summer afternoon with a backpack smelling of campfire, a deep tan and a smile on my face. Two friends and I had just jumped a freight train from Eugene to Albany and hitched into Portland on the latest leg of a thousand-mile trek from San Francisco to the western shores of Canada’s Vancouver Island.