Protesters arrested at Gresham City Council meeting speak out - KPTV - FOX 12

Protesters arrested at Gresham City Council meeting speak out

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Pastor Steve Kimes, who was one of the seven people arrested for disorderly conduct on Tuesday. (KPTV) Pastor Steve Kimes, who was one of the seven people arrested for disorderly conduct on Tuesday. (KPTV)
(Courtesy: Mike Bluehair) (Courtesy: Mike Bluehair)
(Courtesy: Mike Bluehair) (Courtesy: Mike Bluehair)
GRESHAM, OR (KPTV) -

Two of the seven people who were arrested for disorderly conduct at Tuesday’s Gresham City Council meeting are speaking out to Fox 12 about their fight for more resources for the homeless population in Gresham, as a city spokesperson details what’s already being done to address the complex issue.

Tensions boiled over at Tuesday’s meeting, where 12 people signed up to give testimony on the issue of homelessness – a conversation sparked by the recent closure of a 60-acre nature area known as Gresham Woods, after city leaders said trash, waste and environmental damage were being left behind by campers.

“The problem is, they’re moving homeless out of one of the biggest areas in Gresham where people can still go without having another place for them to go,” said Pastor Steve Kimes, who was arrested at Tuesday’s meeting and spent about six hours in jail.

Kimes was once homeless himself, along with his wife and two kids.

Now, he runs a day shelter out of his Gresham church three days a week, serving 50 people on the slowest days.

He knows one of the biggest problems facing the city is that there is no overnight shelter.

“I’ve lived here 20 years,” he said.  “In 20 years, Gresham’s only answer has been to move people from one place to another.”

“My whole objective to this is that we get our voice heard,” said Melanie Rosenthal, who has struggled with homelessness and was also arrested at Tuesday’s meeting.  “That the people who can’t speak, are afraid to speak, don’t want to come in front of the cameras, don’t want to deal with city council, that they get heard.”

But after testimony was given at Tuesday’s meeting, Kimes – and a group of others – started chanting and waving flags in council chambers, effectively shutting down the meeting.  Councilors took a recess, but the protest continued and seven people were arrested.

“We’re not interested in shutting down city council, we want to help city council realize they need homeless people to create solutions together.  Because unless they have homeless people at the table, they don’t know what the solutions are,” Kimes said.  “Telling stories has never reached city hall’s ears.  It’s time for us to do something else.  Maybe they’ll be able to listen this time, we don’t know.”

But city leaders say they are listening.

“The city and your representatives are not against you.  We want to work with you, we want to work to solve this solution,” Council President Mario Palmero said at Tuesday’s meeting.  “We find homelessness as inhumane, we're tired of seeing people come down with frostbite or die in our woods.  This is one of the richest countries in the world, this should not happen here and we're pushing for it but we need your help, we need your cooperation, we need to work together."

A city spokesperson tells Fox 12 Gresham is getting a grant of $130,000 through a partnership with Multnomah County, the City of Portland, and Home Forward called “A Home For Everyone.” The funds will go to two projects: hiring a social worker at city hall to be the point person between the homeless and police; and also to create 2-person “Clean Teams” where people go to parks, trails and open spaces to clean up debris in those areas, providing employment opportunities to people transitioning out of homelessness.

After the disruption at Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Karylinn Echols said:

“The sad thing about what just happened is it was a huge missed opportunity…Unfortunately, the really salient, important pieces of the information they were sharing gets lost because of all the chaos they created, and it’s really unfortunate because there were some really important things that were said.  …They asked us to listen, they asked us to respect them and I think that goes both ways.”

Both sides tell Fox 12 they are open to meeting with each other in the future.

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