Jun 1, 2023 - Politics

City agrees to clear tents from sidewalks in ADA settlement

Photo illustration of Portland City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios; Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

The Portland City Council settled a lawsuit Wednesday, requiring that tents and campsites be removed from sidewalks in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Why it matters: The settlement is one of several major policy changes that are designed to reduce the number of people living unsheltered due to homelessness, an issue that tops all other concerns of Portland voters, according to an Oregonian poll last fall.

Catch up fast: Nine people with disabilities and one caregiver filed the suit last September, seeking to change what they called Portland's "systemic" failure to provide full access to sidewalks.

Details: The settlement requires the city to immediately prioritize clearing tents off sidewalks over other spaces, mandating that 40% of campsite removals be from sidewalks every year.

  • It requires that Portland spend at least $8 million on that work next year and at least $3 million for the following four years.
  • It also awards the plaintiffs $5,000 each and pays attorneys' fees.

Separately: The City Council also heard hours of passionate testimony Wednesday on Mayor Ted Wheeler's new proposal to ban daytime camping everywhere and to strictly limit other times and places that people who don't have access to shelter can camp.

  • Police would enforce the ban, with fines of up to $100 per violation or jail for up to 30 days after two warnings.

What they're saying: On the ADA lawsuit, John DiLorenzo, attorney for the plaintiffs, told Axios that the settlement prioritizing sidewalk clearance will work with the broader camping ban, if it passes, "hand in glove to assure that people with disabilities are going to be able to live their lives as fully as they possibly can."

The other side: Tom Stenson, deputy legal director for Disability Rights Oregon, noted that tents are not the only things that block sidewalks. "There's nothing in the settlement whatsoever for somebody whose way is blocked by construction equipment or a poorly maintained sidewalk," Stenson told Axios.

What's next: The ADA lawsuit settlement is effective as of Wednesday's vote.

  • The camping ban will be back in front of the council for a vote next Wednesday.
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