- WikiMedia/M.O. Stevens
- On Saturday, protests erupted outside the Columbia Sportswear store in Portland, Oregon, forcing it to close.
- The protesters were responding to an open letter that CEO Tim Boyle had written about safety concerns around the company’s office.
- Some saw it as an attack on the neighborhood’s homeless population.
Protesters are not happy with Columbia Sportswear’s weighing in on Portland’s social ills.
Roughly 50 people descended on the brand’s flagship location in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, forcing the store to close, according to The Oregonian.
The protest was in response to an editorial that Tim Boyle, the company’s CEO and president, published in The Oregonian in November. The letter announced that the company would consider moving its one-year-old office in downtown Portland, which is used by its Sorel brand.
Boyle said he would make the decision in the next 90 days. Safety concerns have arisen as some employees said they received death threats from nearby panhandlers.
“A few days ago, one of our employees had to run into traffic when a stranger outside our office followed her and threatened to kill her. On other occasions our employees have arrived at work only to be menaced by individuals camping in the doorway,” the letter read.
“Our employees have had so many car break-ins downtown that we have started referring to parking in Portland as our ‘laptop donation program.'”
The letter went on to call for more to be done to make Portland’s downtown area safer, including a greater police presence and more attention to the issue from city government.
The editorial received a swift response from Portland’s civic leadership. Signs around downtown now say that loitering is prohibited, and that the “sidewalk is for pedestrian movement only” – a reference to Portland’s “no-sit policy,” according to The Oregonian.
Though the letter itself did not mention homelessness at all, some in the Portland community interpreted the signs and the letter as an attack on an already-vulnerable population.
“We think it’s disgusting that a CEO that happened to give so much money to [Mayor] Ted Wheeler’s campaign can write an op-ed and instantly these signs go up that no one is allowed to sit in front of his business,” Gregory McKelvey, the founder of Portland’s Resistance, the group that organized the protest, told NBC affiliate KGW News.
“We shouldn’t be criminalizing things homeless people need to do to survive.”
Protesters held signs with slogans like “Homelessness is a last resort, not a crime” and “Making hardship harder won’t make it go away.”
In a statement released on Saturday, Wheeler said: “It’s irresponsible to conflate homelessness and crime. We can address safety issues with common sense enforcement. We can address homelessness with compassion. That’s our plan.”
The store reopened on Sunday, but the protesters say they may be back.
In response to the protests, Columbia released a statement from Boyle:
A couple of weeks ago, Columbia Sportswear Company delivered a truckload of coats to Transition Projects, an important nonprofit that assists homeless individuals in Portland, and our team participated in TV interviews stressing the importance of providing support for communities in need. The same day, I published an opinion piece in The Oregonian urging city leaders to address urgent safety issues in downtown Portland in part by providing resources for community policing. My opinion piece in The Oregonian did not address homelessness generally. The word does not appear in the article, because the concerns about safety are not tied solely to that issue. The call for community policing resources got far more attention, but the spotlight needs to be much broader. You would be hard-pressed to name all the agencies and enterprises who are involved in some way in these inter-related issues. There are issues that touch the state, the city, the county, and there are no doubt resources being spent by public bodies that no one thinks of in connection with homelessness. At times Portlanders seem to be talking past each other, choosing one side or another to what is inherently a multi-sided issue. We can and should – and We do – show compassion to support individuals in need. At the same time, we can and should provide resources for law enforcement to provide greater safety for all. While this a challenging situation, I refuse to give up, and I would encourage all Oregonians to devote time, attention, and, yes, resources to address the complex issues surrounding homelessness. In meetings with local and state leaders in recent months I have offered to contribute personally to genuine solutions – not policing – and I have reiterated my belief that others in the business community should join this effort. I am glad to call business leaders personally to ask them to contribute. We cannot solve all problems, and we will likely never address all the needs related to homelessness, but as Oregonians we can make meaningful progress if our leaders (business, government, nonprofits and others) have the will to do so.