PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – When the City of Portland joined a request to review a Supreme Court ruling that framed how governments could enforce homelessness laws, advocates argued that the city should instead build the housing that people need.
“It dramatically reduces the city’s ability to enforce unsanctioned camping ordinances so we are hoping the Supreme Court unwinds some really bad case law,” Gonzalez said.
According to Martin v Boise, cities cannot enforce criminal laws to prohibit people from sleeping in public places without a place for those people to go or stay. Another, Johnson v Grants Pass, ruled that cities could not criminalize using tents or cars for sleeping unless the government offers another sleeping option.
The brief Portland signed along with the League of Oregon Cities, Association of Idaho Cities, The Special Districts Association of Oregon, and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys claims “even where a city allows camping on public property, it still faces the threat of federal litigation…for not allowing unfettered camping at all times in all circumstances.”
But advocates for those suffering homelessness say the solution for Portland’s homelessness crisis lies elsewhere. Juan Chavez of the Oregon Justice Resource Center told KOIN 6 the root issue is the supply and expense of Portland’s housing market.
“They refuse to acknowledge that that’s what is at root here, because if they have to do that, then there would have to be bigger changes that need to be done and that’s inconvenient for them,” Chavez said.
This brief is one of two dozen filed urging the Supreme Court to hear this issue. The court has declined to review Martin v Boise in the past.
Gonzalez said the rulings are why the city has not enforced the daytime camping ban that passed this summer.
“Portlanders are seeing zero progress as a result of it, zero impacts on the streets of Portland,” he said. “It’s because the city and mayor’s team are terrified of being sued.”
But Chavez sees it in a different light, saying that the rulings only prohibit the punishment – either by jailtime or fines – not the ordinances themselves.
“They are asking to restrict the people’s rights to avoid cruel and unusual punishment,” he said.
Chavez told KOIN 6 the city could avoid suits by creating spaces for people who would otherwise be on the streets.
“Keep building,” Chavez said. “That’s your responsibility; you are a public servant. Serve the public.”
Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.