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Housing activist ending Portland hunger strike

PORTLAND – When asked the inevitable how-do-you-feel question during his eight-week hunger strike, Cameron Whitten often joked by saying he felt like a million bagels, bonbons or whatever type of food popped into his head.

Starting today, he will be able to eat a million bonbons – vegan bonbons.

The Portland activist who began the hunger strike June 2 said he will start eating solid food again this morning. Whitten, who said his weight fell from 193 pounds to 159 pounds during the 55-day fast, declined to divulge the details of his first post-strike meal.

“You’ll have to be there to find out,” said Whitten, who tweeted that he received a congratulatory avocado from a reporter.

A prominent figure in last fall’s Occupy Portland movement, Whitten started the strike just weeks after losing the May election to become mayor. His cause was housing, but it was largely overlooked by online skeptics who questioned his motives and those who focused on the encampment Whitten and his supporters set up on the sidewalk outside City Hall.

“People always try to find a way to divert themselves from addressing the issue, and that’s just a problem we have as Americans in general,” Whitten said. “We’re cynics, we’re skeptics and we don’t really want to focus on coming together as a collective and addressing problems.”

City leaders paid little attention to the protest and refused to budge on the activist’s demand for a one-year moratorium on foreclosures or the waiving of fines against the owner of a vacant lot that has been transformed into a highly visible homeless camp. He also wanted the Portland City Council to place a housing levy on the fall ballot.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the only commissioner to meet with Whitten on a regular basis, said voters would probably reject such a levy, and that would be a setback for the cause championed by Whitten. Leaders have instead developed plans for a regional housing summit to address the issue of affordable housing.

“As much as I care about his health – and not wanting him to die – as a city commissioner I wasn’t going to do things that would be in the long term adverse to the interests of people living outside or to the city of Portland,” Fritz said.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, whose bureau levied the fine against the owner of the vacant lot, has received harsh criticism from Whitten. The activist recently tweeted: “Day 49. I dedicate this Day to Dan Saltzman, who can’t wait to see me go to the hospital.”

Saltzman said Wednesday he’s pleased Whitten ended the strike.

“Bright young person,” he said. “I’m sure he’s got a good future here in the city and I’m glad he’s going to follow the right path.”



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