Youth camp swept; threatened with further sweeps
The City of Portland used police officers and Rapid Response Bio Clean to sweep an encampment of homeless youth on Tuesday and, after the campers relocated to another location, posted a sweep notice at their new site. Confirmed reports from anonymous sources say the sweep started around 7:00 a.m. and, in addition to the typical harms inflicted during sweeps, forced youth without housing to leave an area with access to case workers, medical help, and specialized youth services. Community members provided mutual aid to help the campers move in a safe way and keep as many personal belongings as possible. The sweep also occurred during an extreme weather event including unseasonal snow, hail storms, and freezing temperatures, and the campers experienced snow as they were establishing new homes. There are also reports that a member of the camp died the night before the sweep.
Once people moved to a new location, police officers posted a sweep notice at that new location within three hours. Sweep notices state that a sweep will be conducted between three and ten days later. Notices also suggest that people about to be swept call 211 to arrange access to shelters. However, Portland has only 1,600 shelter beds for at least 4,000 people without shelter on an average night. Furthermore, most shelters in Portland will not provide space to people under the age of 18. That includes temporary shelters during extreme weather events, assuming they open in a timely fashion. Even family shelters won’t provide space to youth if they aren’t in the company of family members. The waiting list for shelters that accept youth in Portland are usually months long. No further support is typically available during sweeps. In comparison, mutual aid efforts continue to provide substantial support for folks without access to housing here in Portland, with individuals assisting in moving camps and groups like Heater Bloc and Feed the Streets providing gear, food, and other aid.
While some will interpret this latest sweep as ‘proof’ that Portland needs more shelters and restrictive camps, even the best functioning shelter system can’t provide homeless youth with the supports they need. The only real answer is providing people who need housing with housing — even a refurbished hotel room can offer privacy, safety, and space to access support. Anything else requires ignoring the perspectives of people who need housing, research, experience, and even budget analysis.
Tax Day’s continuing difficulties
The U.S. approach to income taxes is inefficient and expensive — and intentionally designed that way. The tax preparation industry spends millions lobbying at the national level to keep the federal government from offering either free filing software or prefilled filings for most tax payers. They do the same thing on the state level, which led the Oregon Department of Revenue to end most of its free filing options earlier this year. Roughly 70,000 Oregon taxpayers used one of the eliminated options to file taxes in 2021, including PDFs with fillable fields.
Intuit provided the State of Oregon with free filing software from 2012 to 2021, when the company dropped out of the Free File Alliance. Last summer, Intuit announced its departure from the group, effectively due to free filling options competing with their paid product, TurboTax. H&R Block also left the group last year, leaving federal free filing options in flux. Maybe letting corporations that profit off of tax preparation set policy around how we prepare our taxes is a bad idea.
Of course, there are plenty of other problems with the way federal, state, and local taxes work:
- Many of the taxes we pay are regressive (meaning that low-income taxpayers pay a larger percentage of their income towards a given tax than high-income taxpayers). From the federal income tax to the State of Oregon’s home mortgage interest deduction down to the City of Portland’s art tax, these regressive taxes increase worsen the effects of wealth inequality and inflation.
- A lot of people don’t know how much tax revenue is collected or how it’s spent, especially on the state and local levels. In a recent survey of Oregon residents, only 25% of respondents knew that state income taxes are the State of Oregon’s primary revenue source. Even the State of Oregon doesn’t really have that much information on their tax expenditures, because they don’t evaluate tax deductions and credits after putting them into place.
- The tax code is part of the social safety net. One of the largest sources of financial support many families received as part of COVID-19 relief measures in 2020 and 2021 was the expansion of the child tax credit. Depending on how taxpayers managed deductions, they could wind up owing money as a result of the end of the expanded credit or because their employment circumstances changed in the past two years. And for folks in Oregon who are eligible for a planned one-time payment of $600 in relief funds from the state government, they may need to redo their 2020 taxes in order to get those relief funds.
- The tax code is also part of the carceral system. The court system routinely charges fees and fines. A court can declare unpaid debts (including parking tickets) delinquent and hand them off for collection. In Oregon, the Circuit Courts send debts to the Oregon Department of Revenue, which has legal authority to take money out a person’s tax refund or wages in order to collect on these debts. In 2020 and 2021, ODOR collected $28.6 million in this fashion. Other government agencies are also able to collect unpaid taxes, fees, and fines in similar ways, although they often have discretion on how to assess late fees, collection methods, credit reporting, and other details. Of course, that discretion has translated to inequitable treatment and even direct harm.
Preschool for All enrollment opens
Multnomah County’s Preschool for All program has opened enrollment for the next school year. The program is providing 675 free spaces for children ages 3 and 4, across 36 preschool programs at 48 locations. The program is a result of a ballot measure passed in November 2020, which taxes high-income earners to cover the cost of preschool for families struggling to access programs. A person earning, for example, $300,000 annually will pay $3,375 towards the tax on their 2021 tax return. The program also provides living wages for early education workers and support for infrastructure investments at childcare facilities.
You can submit an application in either English or Spanish and local organizations are providing support to families more comfortable applying in another language. Applications will close once the county receives enough requests to fill the seats that are available. Families with less access to preschool programs will be prioritized and most programs will serve free meals.
A community meeting will take place Tuesday, April 19 for community partners interested in learning more about Preschool for All’s progress.