PORTLAND — With fines mounting and closure threatened, a group of at least 50 homeless people in Portland plan to march on City Hall to support an encampment that they call home.
The city calls it something else — specifically, a recreational campground that needs fixes for it to come up to code. The city levied a $641 fine in January, and plans another one on Wednesday. The fines will continue until the encampment changes its status or disbands.
The encampment, named by its residents "Right 2 Dream Too," sprung up in mid-October, just days after the Occupy Portland protest put down roots across town.
This camp is far smaller than its Occupy counterpart, about 30 tents housing nearly 50 people in neat rows on a half-acre lot in the city's downtown.
"It's been kind of neat for them," said lot owner Michael Wright. "Some of them have found work, gone back to school, and they know where they're going to spend the night."
But the city has said the campground cannot continue in its present form. The homeless call the encampment a "rest area," which would give it legal cover from a ban on camping in Portland city limits. City officials said that inspectors determined it was a campground, and had to register as such.
"They have tents set up where people are staying, and our determination is that it is a residential campground requiring a permit," said Bureau of Development Services spokesman Ross Caron. "They have a process open in front of them, an avenue to legalize what they're doing there now."
Wright, the lot owner said, the idea for the encampment began during a TV news interview he gave after a food cart pod in the lot was shut down. Wright told the interviewer he wasn't sure what he would do with the land, but that perhaps he'd hand it over for a year to the city's homeless.
Ibrahim Mubarak took him up on the offer.
The 55-year-old camp founder had pitched the idea before, on the city's waterfront. This time, he found a cooperative property owner and got to work.
The encampment has one portable toilet, two kitchen shelves piled high with canned food and macaroni and cheese boxes, a hot plate for coffee and a sink to wash dishes.
Showers are harder to come by, but local social-service agencies help on that front.
The city began levying fines on Jan. 1. It plans to keep the fines to $641 until April, when the fines will double.
"The homeless asked me not to pay the fines because it would almost be an admission that we were doing something wrong," Wright said.
Members of the camp plan a march on City Hall on Wednesday morning.
Caron said the camp could come under compliance, and the city would even consider lessening the fines, if the encampment would submit to obtaining a campground permit.
Mubarak and Wright said they don't trust the city's motivations. Wright has owned the lot since the 1980s, and it used to house his primary business, an adult bookstore. But city inspectors found structural flaws and the building was shut down. Wright eventually razed it.
In its place is a gravel lot in Portland's Old Town. Wright estimates he has poured $400,000 into the property, and is trying to sell it for $3 million. He said he doesn't expect to get more than $2 million.
In the meantime, "It's been a real, real big headache," Wright said.
Wright said he'll forge on, but said he, too, has limits.
"I can't afford to go ahead and carry them forever on it," Wright said. "When it's been proven to me and some judge somewhere says yeah, you are a recreational campground, I'll probably have to at some point end that tent city."