In an interview with the Press Herald last week, Bernie Saulnier of Saulnier Development said it right in his list of reasons for why his firm's proposed development on Munjoy Hill would be a good thing for the city and for the neighborhood.
"It should be a big improvement up there," Saulnier said. "There are some homeless people living up there in the brush and vegetation. So we will clean that up."
Not surprisingly, the idea of displacing homeless people from their modest, meager, barely visible campsites didn't cause much of a stir among the condo-class up on Munjoy, but the plan for the development is seeing backlash nonetheless.
At issue isn't the safety of the homeless or the dignity with which we treat them. No, the blowback for Saulnier's plan is solely about the iconic view from Sumner Park on North Street that would be partially blocked by the proposed six-story building, which would be built below North Street on Sheridan Street and would have 34 condominiums.
Saulnier said he wants to work with the city and residents to help preserve the views, and would even be willing to consider building a viewing deck and rebuilding a stone staircase that connects Sheridan Street to the park.
For all of his willingness to hear people's concerns and work with them, though, he somehow neglected to offer a relocation plan for the homeless people that he's so excited about booting from the underbrush, and somehow the residents of Munjoy Hill neglected to ask for one.
This is the same neighborhood that once was a haven for working class families and affordable housing but is now a leading catalyst in Portland's housing crisis with its wealthy retirees from away and million-dollar condos.
I don't want to just pick on the caviar eaters on Munjoy, though, because faux compassion for the homeless is a city-wide habit in Portland, despite our overblown reputation as a progressive, caring place.
Sure, it might look like we care here, what with our tolerance for panhandlers and system of low-barrier homeless shelters, but that smug feeling starts to feel a bit forced when you confront the realities of the situation.
Sure, we'll rally against developers who want to block our favorite views, we'll defend our public parks, and we'll tax plastic bags to save sea life — but when it comes time to stand up for the most marginalized and desperate people of our community we fall flat.
Tell me then, where was the outrage last week when the Bangor Daily News reported that a tent community of at least 30 people living in the woods on the outskirts of town near the Westbrook line is being evicted by the Portland Police Department.
That's a lot more people than the handful that Saulnier wants to "clean up". That's an entire village of people battling a wide range of personal mental and physical health problems — many of whom have lived peacefully in those woods for years — and they're all being uprooted and cast off with nowhere else to go, but you won't see any petition drives or referendum votes to save them.
To the same tune, the only cries heard last week when yet another downtown median strip was stripped from the roadway were cries of joy thanking the city for its continued efforts to rid our streets of panhandlers and our sensitive eyes from the burden of bearing witness to the plight of our homeless neighbors.
Look, I love the level of civic engagement in Portland. We have a lot to be proud of in this community. Over the years we've fought to preserve our working waterfront, we stood up to City Hall and the powers that be to save Congress Square Park, and we are known the world over as a place of refuge for those fleeing war-torn regions.
Still, before we pat ourselves on the back for being such an open-minded, forward-thinking community, let's make sure to stand up for those without a roof over their heads, a decent meal to eat, a safe place to sleep, or the means to stand up for themselves.
Otherwise we're just a bunch of hypocrites who care more about a good place to watch the sun set than we do for the lives of our own downtrodden neighbors.