The City of Portland moved forward with the clean-up of the Casco Bay Bridge homeless encampment on Tuesday, a move that two city councilors compared last week
The public sanitation effort comes one week after Portland City Counselors Anna Treverrow and Victoria Pelletier published an op-ed comparing the attitude of people who want to clear homeless encampments — where the Cumberland County District Attorney has said rapes, violent assaults, and robberies are common — to the views of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on black slaves.
“I think [slavery] a greater evil to the white than to the black race,” said General Lee in a letter to his wife, quoted by Trevorrow and Pelletier. “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically.”
Treverrow and Pelletier liken the Confederate general’s attitude to the view many Portlanders have towards clearing homeless encampments, and compare the situation of Portland’s homeless, many of whom have declined shelter opportunities offered by nonprofits, to the suffering of black slaves in the former Confederacy.
“These themes persist in the normalized discourse surrounding present-day homelessness: that the more privileged group is the greater victim of oppression and the oppressed; that violence and abuse are for the good of the victim,” the councilors said.
The sweeping encampments, which require that the homeless leave the city, find a friend or relative to stay with, or go to a shelter, are “violence and abuse,” according to the councilors.
In addition to the rapes, assaults, and robberies, the Casco Bay encampment is infested with rats, and has seen tent fires, propane tank explosions, overdoses and deaths in recent months.
Despite this, some homeless choose to live on the streets or in encampments rather than taking aid from a shelter.
“A lot of the time, the lifestyle we live doesn’t really allow for strict, set rules,” a homeless woman recently told CBS13 reporter Brad Rogers.
That woman chooses to stay illegally in an encampment despite the availability of shelters, because she refuses the discipline necessary to stay in a shelter.
“We know that the number one barrier cited for resistance to accepting shelter is loss of autonomy,” said Treverrow and Pelletier.
Though they acknowledged that the majority of resistance to homeless shelters is voluntary, the councilors nevertheless said laws that criminalize camping and loitering are racist tools intended to oppress minorities and poor people.