by Joanne Zuhl
Homeless campers came out the winners in a settlement with the Oregon Department of Transportation that buys them time before their property is swept from camps.
The settlement, signed in August, puts into effect this month new guidelines that now require ODOT to post a pending camp sweep no less than 10 days and no more than 19 prior to confiscating property. The guidelines apply statewide, and are the result of a lawsuit filed by the Oregon Law Center on behalf of six homeless campers who lost property in sweeps in Southeast Portland.
“Before, people were literally leaving their camp for a day to find everything they owned was gone with absolutely no notice,” says Oregon Law Center’s Monica Goracke who negotiated the settlement. “And they could have moved it if they had been given a little bit of notice. Now they should have at least 10 days, which should give even someone who doesn’t have a vehicle enough time to relocate their belongs.”
The lawsuit claimed that the sweeps not only violated the plaintiffs right to due process, in being denied notice, but that they also consisted unlawful search in seizure in the loss of their property.
The new guidelines, agreed to by ODOT and Multnomah County, went into effect at the start of September, and apply to all land under ODOT authority. This includes under all freeway overpasses, and essential encompasses “a bubble” around all the freeways, Goracke says.
The temporary notices stating “Notice Personal Property Must Be Removed” must be posted regardless of whether or not a permanent sign such as “No Camping” is already in place at the site. The guidelines also require that property be moved at least 1,500 feet from the notice to be in compliance. It is also clearly required that the personal property that is confiscated be held for 30 days from the date of cleanup, after which it can be discarded or recycled.
There are caveats for areas posted as “no trespassing” when the area is not open to the general public, as well as special sections of highway right-of-way deemed exclusion zones. In those cases, property can be removed immediately as part of a trespass citation or exclusion notice. Goracke said that doesn’t mean ODOT has the clearance to simply post all of its right of way for “no trespassing.”
“If they’re doing that people should contact us, because it definitely wouldn’t be honoring the spirit of the agreement,” Goracke says.
Goracke said the willingness of ODOT to allow for reasonable notices for homeless camps should send a message that there is room for changes elsewhere. Portland currently has a 24-hour camping notice.
“I think this shows that if ODOT can be reasonable and implicitly recognize that people have no where to go and give them a reasonable and humane amount of time to move themselves and their belongings, there’s no reason other government bodies couldn’t do the same thing.”
Read the guidelines here: ODOT Guidelines 09-01-11