Portland, Ore. — A court ruling will determine whether Portland’s enforcement of the daytime ban on homeless camps can proceed as planned by city officials next week. After hearing arguments on Thursday morning, the judge postponed the decision until the end of Thursday or Monday, which coincides with the day the ban is scheduled to start.
Homeless Portlanders, represented by the Oregon Law Center, filed a class action lawsuit against the city at the end of September, contending that Portland’s camping ordinance violates state law and the Oregon Constitution. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to halt the ban while the court case progresses.
Judge Rima Ghandour announced that a decision would be reached by the end of Thursday or at the latest, by Monday.
Portland City Council approved the new ordinance in June, which took effect in early July. However, city officials delayed enforcing the camping ban until the fall, focusing on “education and outreach” during the intervening months to prepare homeless individuals and service providers for the change.
Mayor Ted Wheeler recently declared enforcement would commence on November 13, at least on a limited scale. Acknowledging insufficient resources for universal enforcement, officials aim to target camps that prompt the most complaints.
The ordinance prohibits camping on city property between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with a 24-hour ban around locations like schools, childcare centers, parks, major streets, and shelters. Violations entail two warnings before possible jail time or a $100 fine, enforced by Portland police officers.
Wheeler and Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt expressed a preference for alternative interventions over jail sentences for violators, without specific details on implementation.
The legal landscape surrounding camping bans in the Western U.S. and changes to Oregon law significantly influences enforcement policies. Recent court rulings have shaped Oregon law, aligning with federal decisions, notably the Martin v. City of Boise case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The outcomes of federal cases like Martin v. City of Boise and a similar case in Grants Pass have significantly influenced Oregon’s legislation, including House Bill 3115 passed in 2021. This bill requires cities to update their camping ordinances, aligning with “objectively reasonable” restrictions, ensuring sufficient shelter space, or allowing individuals to sleep on public property to a limited extent.
Portland’s new camping ordinance, a daytime ban, seemingly aligns with HB 3115 but faces legal challenge from the Oregon Law Center, which argues it violates the established law and the state’s Constitution.
The lawsuit asserts that the ordinance is “objectively unreasonable, cruel, and incomprehensible,” potentially subjecting approximately 10,000 homeless Portlanders to penalties for violating a law they find impossible to understand or comply with.
While the court’s decision on the preliminary injunction is pending, the case will continue to progress, but a trial date has not yet been set.