PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – In a lawsuit claiming the City of Portland isn’t complying with federal disability rights laws, the lawyer behind the suit now says Multnomah County is paying millions of dollars for the camping supplies covering some sidewalks, only for the city to sweep them away.
In September, KOIN 6 News reported on the class action suit that claims the city is failing to remove homeless camp debris from sidewalks — which they say is preventing people with disabilities from safely being able to use their wheelchairs or walking sticks for the blind.
“Our plaintiffs cannot as much as buy a tube of toothpaste, without having to commingle into the traffic with their wheelchairs to get around the encampments,” said John DiLorenzo, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
In June, KOIN 6 News also uncovered how the county was spending millions of dollars in COVID relief money on camping items. At the time, County Chair Deborah Kafoury defended the spending saying it saved lives.
The law firm representing the plaintiffs now reportedly found budget documents that show Multnomah County bought and distributed tens of thousands of tarps, tents and sleeping bags through its non-profit partners in 2021.
The firm said these are likely the same tents that ended up on the sidewalks that are blocking their disabled plaintiffs in wheelchairs.
“So, it appears to us that the county supplies the tents, which blocked the sidewalks, which the city then sweeps. And to me, that’s akin to trying to walk up the down escalator. You get nowhere and you’re exhausted. At the end of the day. There is no cogent policy between these two governments,” DiLorenzo said. “Seems to be an incredible waste of resources.”
Now, the lawyers have issued subpoenas, requiring Multnomah County to produce all documents that show where they bought the tents from, how much they paid, how they distributed them and if they properly informed their non-profit partners that their recipients shouldn’t be putting tents up on sidewalks, which blocks access for people with disabilities.
The lawsuit ultimately asks for two things: for the city to clear all the sidewalks of encampments and obstructions, ensuring they don’t come back; and to provide the homeless with safe shelter.
“Our suggestion is that the city should save the $40 million a year that they’re wasting in the Joint Office and use it to provide temporary shelter for people, so they have a place to go and not have to live on the sidewalks exposed to the elements,” DiLorenzo said.
KOIN 6 News reached out to the city attorney’s office, Multnomah County and the Joint Office of Homeless Services for comment.
“The Joint Office of Homeless Services has put half its budget this year into expanding and strengthening its shelter system, even as it builds out a rapid-response housing system that helped 4,560 people leave homelessness and move into homes of their own last fiscal year.
At the same time, the homelessness services system and the Joint Office have also continued to provide safety on the streets services,” said Denis Theriault, the deputy communications director.
“In terms of the recent legal claims and filings, the County cannot comment because of potential litigation.”