Tag Archives: Oregon Law Center

Plaintiff in camping lawsuit puts award toward homeless campers

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Leo Rhodes, one of nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city over homeless camping, says he will take his small payment from the settlement and give it to, well, other controversial homeless campers.

Rhodes was unhappy with the recent settlement, which presents new guidelines for police but falls short of reversing the city’s anti-camping ordinances, because, he says, it doesn’t address the larger problem of people who are homeless having no place to go.

“All my money is going toward Right 2 Dream Too,” Rhodes says, referring to the rest site for people experiencing homelessness at the corner of Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside. “Because this is giving them a place to go — some stability and some sanity. Where they can have a safety zone.”

It’s not a lot of money, a few hundred dollars each under the terms of the settlement finalized earlier this month. Continue reading

Oregon Law Center scores victory for people sleeping outside

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. Continue reading

Camp Pioneer emerges, to be swept tomorrow…

About 10 people experiencing homelessness set up a small tent community on a tiny triangle of land on North Wheeler Avenue just west of Dixon Street.

The camp has been in existence for two-weeks. This afternoon, a 24-hour notice for a illegal campsite was posted by the Portland Police Bureau.

“We’re homeless and we’re tired of being run off,” says Chrissy, one of a handful of people at the site Monday afternoon.

Paris, a camp organizer, says he thinks it’s wrong of the city to push them out. “No matter where we go, we’re going to get kicked out. Every night it’s the same thing. It’s the police, transit police, security; you name it. I don’t know where they expect us all to sleep.”

After two weeks at the location, the campers have cleared several yards of blackberry bushes and began planting crops for food. They say they need tools to get to work, but want to start building garden beds.

“All we’re trying to do is make it so people can feel safe,” says Rick, one of the campers at the site who has been homeless since he was 5. He’s now 25.

The City of Portland is currently in settlement negotiations with the Oregon Law Center on a year-and-half-old class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Portland’s camping ordinance. On Sept. 9, the City Council is holding an Executive Session on the camping lawsuit.

Nearly a year has passed since City Commissioner Nick Fish’s office unveiled proposals to loosen restrictions to the camping ordinance for people experiencing homelessness who sleep outdoors. No changes have been made.

by Israel Bayer & Joanne Zuhl.

Camping ordinance being challenged

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

When is new housing not new? When it’s reprogrammed

From the Dec. 12 special affordable housing edition, “In need of a new deal.”

Portland’s efforts to build a net gain of affordable housing for its lowest income residents have failed more than the city bureau charged with creating that housing would like you to know.

In 1978, 5,183 units in Portland’s downtown core were affordable to people living at 0 to 30 percent of median family income (MFI), considered low-income. In 1984, the city’s Central City Plan mandated that at least that number would always be affordable downtown.

In an effort to get back to that number, the Portland City Council approved a No Net Loss Policy in 2001 calling for rehabilitating, preserving, and creating affordable housing in the central city through regulation and additional financial resources.

Since 1994, the non-profit Northwest Pilot Project, which serves the elderly homeless and low-income, has inventoried downtown affordable housing. The last inventory was published in 2007, and counted 3,330 affordable units in the downtown area, well below the 5,183 units the City has committed to retain. Continue reading

Lawyers for homeless to sue city over camping ordinance

Posted Dec. 11, 2008


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