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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 8, 2005 11:04 PM. The previous post in this blog was If it's not "financially feasible," stay in California. The next post in this blog is Yes, he is. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, September 8, 2005

Guess who's coming to dinner

I noticed elsewhere in the blogosphere this week that some of the residents of the Buckman neighborhood in southeast Portland were being called on the carpet for having the nerve to question whether they'd still be safe with 500 or so refugees from New Orleans living on cots at Washington High School for an extended period.

This criticism seemed really unfair to me, for several reasons. First, there has been lots of trouble, including rape, at the Houston Astrodome, where other Katrina victims have been housed. Second, the Buckman neighborhood always gets society's problems brought within its boundaries for "treatment," and then when the ribbon-cutting ceremonies are over and the novelty wears off, the politicians forget their promises regarding security. Third, I've never been so scared on any streets anywhere as I was in downtown New Orleans -- and the knowledgeable locals told me to be even more wary than I was when I first got there. If the punks who menaced me in broad daylight in the French Quarter are coming to Buckman, then the folks down there have every right to be concerned.

Now from Salt Lake City, another evacuee resettlement site, comes a story that confirms that the Buckman neighbors are justified in asking their un-PC questions. Some of the new Utah neighbors have, in their pasts, committed major, violent crimes: "seven murders, six sexual crimes, numerous armed robberies, a few batteries of police officers, and one kidnapping."

You put people with those kinds of records a block away from St. Francis Park, with nowhere to go and nothing to do for months on end, and you are asking for trouble. For evacuees and neighbors alike.

Don't get me wrong, bringing evacuees here is the absolute right thing to do. They all deserve sympathy, respect, compassion, dignity, help. Most of the hundreds whom Portland takes in will be model citizens, and many of those with crimes in their past will not repeat their misdeeds here.

But some will. No one seriously believes that everybody in that crowded gym is going to be a cuddly Fats Domino figure, eating Mayor Potter's gumbo and singing "We Are the World" all day and night. So let's do this right. Mr. Mayor, after they take your picture kissing the babies, please keep enough cops on the scene, just to be on the safe side.

UPDATE, 9/9, 12:29 a.m.: I just learned that some members of Portland's African-American community have taken great umbrage at the security questions being raised, and some angry members of that community spoke at a sometimes-tense Buckman neighborhood meeting Thursday night.

If the mayor's going to "bring us all together," as he has promised to do, he's going to have to help us all walk a tightrope here. African-Americans are outraged right now, and rightly so. But the folks down in Buckman, who spend their summers chasing drug dealers around on their own because there aren't enough cops, are justifiably worried that this move is very experimental, and it carries some risks for them. Both "sides" are making valid points, and both feel aggrieved. But their grievances are not with each other. It's a sad, sad day when the folks in northeast Portland and the folks in southeast Portland are fighting with each other when their real, mutual nemeses are elsewhere, like in the White House. But ain't that America, 2005.

Although I'm going to catch holy heck from some readers about this post after the sun comes up in the morning, I'm standing by it. I'm not trying to fan the flames unnecessarily, but for everybody's sake, this project cannot be left to the kind of policing that's responsible for the horrible summer nights we had downtown this year. Please, Mayor Potter, work some magic.

Comments (15)

There's no cops for all that extra 'safety' and 'security' providing, Jack, you know that. I mean, City Hall doesn't give a crap about private citizens who are longitudinally-challenged. Now if the refugees were housed downtown, that would be another story.

On a related note: our $42-million aerial tram [rim shot] could have *almost* paid the missing money ($60-million) that New Orleans wanted to fix their leaky levee before the storm.

Sorry for the people in the Buckman district. My vote would have been to put them in vacant condos in the Pearl District.

I was wondering the exact same thing today. And wondering if sending evacuees 2,000 miles away is a good thing for anyone. Watching the press conference today, it seemed like the leaders in Portland practically begged FEMA and the Red Cross to send people to Portland so we could prove we're everything we claim to be. One guy said FEMA called him once a day with updates but he called them four or five times "just to let them know we're here". Can't blame authorities for saying "you wanted them, you can have them". Maybe opening Wapato wasn't such a bad suggestion.

Chris, that last part is unfair. I'm sure you'll agree, everyone who's coming deserves respect, compassion, help, and the benefit of the doubt. I'm against Wapato as a first option. You don't put people whose lives have been destroyed in a jail, unless they ask to be sent there. That said, I'm all for talking it over with people once they're here, showing them Wapato, and letting them decide after full disclosure and time for reflection. A couple of weeks on a cot in the gym might make the new jail look pretty good.

In order for the high school to work, where the Astrodome and other side-by-side sleeping arrangements have miserably failed, we are going to have to do better than just hope everyone behaves. It's every bit as much a concern about victim-on-victim crime as it is about victim-on-Buckman-neighbor crime.

Don't get me wrong, bringing evacuees here is the absolute right thing to do. They all deserve sympathy, respect, compassion, dignity, help...

I agree. But I'm also disappointed to think that cots in a moth-balled high school gym is the "best" we can offer. When company comes from out of town, do you give them a cot in the kitchen?

At the Buckman meeting last weekend there was a LOT of compassion, a lot of "Let's do this right." I hope we do, for both our neighborhoods and for the folks that need our help. But we can't kid ourselves that this is going to be easy, or that cots in a gym, thousands of miles from home, isn't going to grow old pretty quickly.

Jack, you're absolutely right. The Wapato comment was kneejerk and in poor taste. I apologize.

However, as I commented in my own blog, I get the feeling that the WaMo site is unneeded by the Feds and a major reason people are coming here at all is because our city leaders begged and whined until they got their way. Flying evacuees 2,000 miles from home for anyone's politial show is victimizing them yet again.

I do hope this plan works out and heck, I hope our guests decide they want to stay and start over here. But you're right, there are certainly reasons to be wary.

I case anybody is wondering the previous mention of "Wapato" is in reference to "Wapato Lodge."

Just one of the many areas of conversation that would be far easier if our country could have a discussion about things involving race that did not descend into a litany of accusations within five minutes.

Yesterday at work I overheard co-workers--none of who live within 20 miles of Buckman--saying that ANYONE who so much as raises some concerns is a flat-out "racist." Anyone. And these folks were all white, so it's not like the charges are only coming from the black community.

Yet, as I see it, the reality is that we're re-locating 500 people into a not-teeming-with-jobs part of town, and expecting them to pass the time on foldup beds, and with donated items. That will get old, and fast. ANY group of 500 people under such circumstances would have its share of problems, and I think the neighbors are entirely justified in wondering about what local resources will be allocated.

I must admit I have thought about this issue myself...however, in the hopes of making the evacuees transition easier, I want to share information about a group of which I was lucky enough to be a member. It is called HOPE Crisis. They are teams of handlers and their specially trained Animal Assisted Therapy dogs who go into crisis situations to help victims open up, feel love, and know that someone cares about them. Many times, people will not open up to another person, but may talk with a nonjudgemental dog. My trainers were the only "comfort dog teams" to be allowed in the pit of the world trade center after 9/11. In January of 2002, my dog Rudie and I were certified. HOPE Crisis started in Eugene after the Thurman School shooting, and has since branched to teams all over the U.S. I think that these human/dog teams can bring much comfort to those who have lost everything...including family and pets. Just like with any volunteer organization, they pay for much of the travel on their own. Here is a link to their website. Locally, this might be just what the evacuees need to begin to heal. I would hate to see what will happen to those individuals who don't talk about and express emotion about what has happened to them...Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

http://www.hopeaacr.org/

From what I understand, many of the claims of violence at the Superdome and Astrodome are either overstated or fear-driven rumor: http://www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/0,16441,1563532,00.html

Outside of simply giving human beings the benefit of the doubt, especially 500 now homeless folks from NO, figure out the statistical probability of having a violent psychopath among the 500, let alone a group of them. Less than 1% chance?

Look at the facts. Then decide if there's something to "fear".

For facts, I'm going with the reports from the two black law professors who are actually in the Astrodome every day.

Jack,

It's great that those guys are blogging what's happening. Unfortunately, many of those reports, like I said, are rumor--3rd, 4th, 10th (?) hand information.

"A child was reportedly raped at the Dome on Saturday."

A serious allegation. But the police on hand don't seem to know anything about it.

All I'm saying, I guess, is let's look for something more substantial than rumors before making 500 NO refugees feel like they're putting the safety of the Buckman neighborhood at risk.

A few days ago, you posted: "Dear Lord, what has happened to my country? A city of a half-million people has been destroyed. Hundreds, maybe thousands, are dead."

It's interesting how the tune changes when a community is asked to involve themselves at a greater level than watching events unfold on T.V. or making a generous monetary donation from across the country.

Personally, I would prefer not to victimize these 500 folks any further by assuming the worst about them.

How many people live in Buckman? Isn't it a safe bet that there are more "criminals" already living "anonymously" in the Buckman neighborhood than their are likely to be among the 500 NO refugees? I could be wrong, but it seems that fear is driving this discussion more than rationality.

Watch out! Black folks comin' in!

Ain't that america? Baby, that's Portland and it's so-called diversity. F'n disgusting.

Dave J, just wondering, where are the teeming-with-jobs parts of town?

And if Portland treats its new homeless (and poor) well, how much differently or well will have to treat its old homeless? (And poor??) It's somewhat of a mecca, though not by invitation or sudden circumstance, for homeless already, yes? (And the "dignity" will be different than a "village" so named?)

Is this in part what some commentators have alluded to when they said this catastrophe could bring in America a seminal change?

Thinking this could be the "X marks the spot" of many public conversations or debates. And I'm thinking also "racism" is almost a red herring.

It appears a number of other refugees in a position to relocate themselves without government assistance, except for education, are already settling in here.

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