Downtown Crackdown Brings Two Views

Homeless Woman, Marge Pettitt, Speaks Out
By Bethany Carlson

Photo credit: Marge Pettitt

Photo credit: Marge Pettitt

Marge Pettitt, who camped in front of the Benton County courthouse in protest after the women’s shelter closed for the season in April, moved across the Willamette. Pettitt was out of town for a month and a half. When she returned last week, having heard about the planned clearing out of the camp on the east bank of the Willamette, her small pink tent had already been bulldozed. She says, “I almost cried. When I went out there I did, I sat and cried. Because that was my house.”

The police department’s month-long crackdown this past spring was followed last week by a removal of the homeless camp on the other side of the river.

“These people were displaced from their homes with all of their belongings. The crackdown just put pressure on the homeless people. They were being cited for trespassing for walking across the street carrying their tents, smoking cigarettes in the park–now they’re being fined $150. Put more stress on a man who can barely make a living­­–how impractical is that?” Pettitt asks.

The police have said that the crackdown was on downtown crime generally and not targeted at one particular population, but she disagrees: “The crackdown was on the homeless. You can ask any of them what’s been going on. [The police have] been profiling. Young black man came up to me–he’s not homeless but he hangs out with the kids here. He said, ‘Marge, police stopped me four times today.’ I said, ‘Oh really, you should wear an OSU jacket–they’ll never stop you again.’ It’s sad. But it happens a lot.”

“They need meds, they need houses, they need security, they need safety like any other human. I think the pet shelter does more for their animals here, there’s more compassion than they have for these human people,” says Pettitt.

Pettitt’s roommate, a woman called Moose by her friends, works as a maid in a Corvallis hotel and has been homeless for about a year. “[Moose] and I don’t want to be in a tent, but we’re starting at ground zero. And we say, well what do you have for us, Corvallis? And they say, ‘Well Love INC will give you shampoo!’ ‘COI will let you [live] there’ but you’ve got to be around these other elements and do this and do that. We just want to live. We’re intelligent older women,” she says firmly.

“If they could do that [open the women’s shelter] again, even just for the summer, it would make it a whole lot easier,” says Moose. “They treated us really well and with respect there, and we had food and showers and whatever,” Pettitt agrees. Moose says she would go to Community Outreach, Inc. but they have no room currently.

She says that the Homeless Coalition is similarly unconcerned with actually listening to the homeless.

The sanitation conditions at the riverside camp have been cause for concern, but Pettitt rejects this as a shabby excuse. It is also notable that there was a stabbing at the camp last Thursday.

“We know what the issue is. They’re going to crack down on the homeless so they can try to drive us out. But when we have nowhere to go, it’s the resemblance of doing something.” She says that the aggressive behavior reported by downtown business owners is preventable: “The homeless, even the worst drunks, they appreciate kindness like you wouldn’t believe,” but they feel that they’re looked down on by some Corvallisites.

“I’ve experienced more prejudice as a homeless person than as a Mexican or a woman,” she says.

Pettitt has a protest planned for June 2nd’s city budget hearing. “We want as many people as possible. And the little pink tent that’s all destroyed by the bulldozer is going to be out there for everybody to see.”

Cops & Community Leaders Like TAP 9 Results, Claim Reduced Crime Stats
by Patrick Fancher

When threatening behavior from homeless transients and others became an uncomfortable, frequent scene in downtown Corvallis business owners, community members and local law enforcement decided enough was enough. Police Captain Dave Henslee met with the representatives from the Downtown Corvallis Association, the Corvallis Homeless Coalition, the Central Park Neighborhood Association, the Community Policing Forum and other stakeholders to produce a strategy to reduce crime in the area, while improving livability.

The result was the Tactical Action Plan 9, and that plan was implemented from March 15 to April 18, 2014. This undertaking proved successful in minimizing crime rates with increased enforcement and education commitments made by patrolling officers. Over the five-week period, officers logged 96 hours of dedicated, enhanced patrols that led to 182 contacts made directly related to the Tactical Action Plan, along with a total of 50 arrests. It is notable that as the month long plan progressed, observed crime, arrests and citations all declined in response to the increased enforcement.

Henslee and the patrol staff had a follow up meeting with the same organizations and stakeholders on May 15 to discuss the results of these efforts. He says everyone agreed the plan had a positive impact and community livability had increased. They had also seen a significant drop-off in crime throughout downtown.

“We discussed the fact that we couldn’t sustain the TAP 9 on a long term basis due to our limited staffing resources,” Henslee said. “We agreed that in the future the police department would do periodic blitzes to make sure we maintain that social expectation downtown and we won’t publicize those.”

Courtney Cloyd, president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, participated in both meetings and seemed pleased with the future agenda. “I support the plan mentioned by Captain Henslee, and I assume the stakeholders will periodically meet with him to review its effectiveness,” Cloyd said.
Joan Wessell, executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, said the TAP 9 was great for businesses downtown. DCA Vice-President and owner of Knight Vision Security, Fred Edwards agreed the Tactical Action Plan was effective, but seemed concerned about the area moving forward, because the CPD has a whole city to cover.

“I guess it’s a financial matter. The police department doesn’t have the available manpower to handle the situation and stay there. From my understanding of what the captain said, we can only do what we can do,” Edwards said.

The consensus suggests the TAP 9 was a success in reducing criminal activity from homeless transients and others, like issues with public intoxication, open containers, human waste and threatening loitering. But time will tell if periodic blitzes have the same outcome.

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