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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Multnomah County government purchased more than 22,000 tents and more than 69,000 tarps for the homeless over the past two years.
Most have been distributed by the Joint Office of Homeless Services throughout the county at a cost of more than $2 million.
The purchases were intended to help the homeless survive the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing restrictions reduced shelter space. Other supplies to ease outdoor living included sleeping bags, blankets and other provisions. At the height of the pandemic, homeless camp sweeps were suspended on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With public buildings, day centers, libraries, even coffee shops closed, and shelters operating at reduced capacity to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the JOHS used relief funds to provide emergency supplies to people to be able to survive outside until vaccines and reopening,” said county spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
But an attorney representing disabled Portlanders believes the purchases heavily contributed to the proliferation of homeless encampments that have blocked sidewalks for years. Local attorney John DiLorenzo has filed a federal lawsuit to compel the city to remove the tents on sidewalks for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also wants the joint office to stop replacing them.
“Through a combination of stubbornness, incompetence and lack of coordination with the city, the JOHS has created a counterproductive policy and colossal waste of tax payer resources as the city sweeps what the County puts in place. The city should terminate its relationship with the JOHS and, instead, use its dues to finance its shelter first policy and keep the sidewalks clear of obstructions so those with disabilities can have their lives back,” DiLorenzo said.
DiLorenzo obtained the details of the purchases by subpoenaing the county as part of his lawsuit. According to DiLoren-zo, documents provided by the county reveal that 22,700 tents were purchased at a cost of $1.6 million between June 9, 2020, and Sept. 6, 2022. The county purchased 69,514 tarps at a cost of $416,053 between June 9, 2020, and July 1, 2021.
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