Lawyers for homeless to sue city over camping ordinance

Posted Dec. 11, 2008

cityhall21

Portland’s anti-camping ordinance is facing a legal challenge by lawyers with the Oregon Law Center who say the ordinance violates the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness.

The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed Friday, calls for the city to stop the ban on homeless people sleeping outside in Portland.

The lawyers say that the defendants — four homeless people who were cited for camping in Portland parks. — were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the city’s ordinance. The ordinance prohibits people from camping on most public and private property.

For more on the camping ordinance, including changes in notice procedures that break it wide open for clearing camps, read Amanda Waldroupe’s story from Nov. 28.

The lawsuit says the city’s pattern of “citing and threatening to arrest involuntarily homeless individuals” for illegal camping is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The ordinance and the procedures surrounding it also violates their plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment right to personal liberty and due process.

The lawsuit cites the realities facing people on the street with regard to sleep and shelter:
“Punishing homeless people for sleeping outside is placing the burden of the lack of sufficient housing squarely on the shoulders of those who can do the least to remedy this problem. It exacerbates the misery and suffering of homeless people and pointlessly prolongs their homelessness by enmeshing them in the criminal justice system’s maze of court dates, fines, community service, and jail time. It also fails to provide alternative options. Many homeless people are shut out of the private housing market because of their eviction history, criminal background or lack of income. Shelters rae difficult if not impossible to access for people who are disabled, mentally ill, seeking drug or alcohol treatment, part of a couple, or who have pets. Rather than address these problems directly, the City of Portland has chosen in effect to criminalize the status of being homeless.”

And that about sums it up. But there’s much more to come as the story develops. Look for more in tomorrow’s blog and upcoming editions of Street Roots.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

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