The Oregon Law Center’s class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Portland’s camping ordinance follows in a long line of similar lawsuits filed across the country to vindicate the Constitutional rights of homeless individuals.
And because of prior lawsuits and the precedents they established, the lawsuit, Anderson v. Portland, has a strong chance of being successful. That would add Portland to a small list of cities whose camping ordinances have been declared unconstitutional.
“There is a solid basis for this lawsuit,” says Adam Arms, the civil rights lawyer who successfully challenged an unconstitutional version of the city’s sidewalk obstructions ordinance in 2004.
Tulin Ozdeger, the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty’s civil rights program director agrees. “As shown by other successful cases across the country… there are a lot of Constitutional problems with these kinds of measures,” says Ozdeger.
Anderson v. Portland, filed in federal court on December 12, argues that the camping ordinance is unconstitutional in two respects.
First, the illegalization of outdoor sleeping when there are not enough shelter beds for homeless individuals cruelly and unusually punishes homeless people, violating the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.
“The Defendants’ [the City of Portland and the Police Bureau] pattern of citing and threatening to arrest involuntarily homeless individuals such as Plaintiffs for illegal camping and other offenses when they are sleeping outdoors… based on their status as homeless persons… is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.
A 2006 case, Jones v. Los Angeles, challenged Los Angeles’ camping ordinance, which made it illegal to camp in public spaces at any time of the day.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Los Angeles could not legally punish homeless individuals for sleeping outside when not enough shelter beds exist to provide night shelter to all the city’s homeless.
“It was a huge victory,” says Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles
Community Action Network, which pursues community organizing efforts in Skid Row.
The precedent set by that case recognized that people have a right to sleep and perform other activities necessary to survive and live.
“There’s no right more fundamental than the right to survive, the right to perform life sustaining activities,” Arms says. Continue reading