Group of homeless people sues Portland, Oregon, over new daytime camping ban
Sep 29, 2023, 5:29 PM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A group of homeless people in Portland, Oregon, filed a class action lawsuit on Friday challenging new restrictions the city placed on daytime camping in an attempt to address safety issues stemming from a crisis of people living on the streets.
The lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges the restrictions violate Oregon law and the state constitution because they subject people who are involuntarily without permanent shelter to unreasonable punishments for unavoidable activities including sleeping and staying dry, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Violators could face jail time and/or fines of up to $100.
Lawyers at the Oregon Law Center, which is representing the plaintiffs, are seeking a temporary restraining order from the court to stop the city from enforcing the restrictions until the lawsuit is resolved.
“The ordinance subjects the approximately 10,000 Portlanders living outside every night to 30 days in jail for violating a law that is impossible to understand or comply with,” the lawsuit alleges.
Portland’s city council voted in June to pass the ordinance prohibiting camping during the daytime in most public places as the city, along with other cities throughout the U.S., wrestles with the longtime crisis of people living outside.
The measure says people may camp in nonrestricted areas from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., but at that time they must dismantle their campsites until the permitted overnight hours begin again. Camping is also banned entirely near schools, parks and busy streets among other locations.
The Oregon Law Center’s litigation director, Ed Johnson, in a statement called the measure “a huge step in the wrong direction,” saying the city needs more supportive housing, rent assistance, tenant protections and supports to stabilize unhoused Portlanders so they can better access housing and services.
A spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler, Cody Bowman, declined to comment to the newspaper on the lawsuit but said the city plans to start enforcing the new rules in the coming weeks. Wheeler has said prosecutions will focus on alternative sentences that connect people with resources.
Bowman said the city is focused on education and outreach efforts related to the ordinance and will provide two weeks notice to the public before enforcement starts.
Business and property owners were among those who supported the measure, which was introduced by the mayor, saying campsites are causing them to lose customers and creating safety issues. Advocates for people experiencing homelessness said it will further burden them, heightening mental and physical distress.