Nov 9, 2023 - News

Enforcement of Portland's camping ban blocked

A man in a green hoodie with a red sleeping bag over his lap sits on the sidewalk next to his wheelchair.

Stephen Sooter, living outside for more than a year, says he had not heard of Portland's camping restrictions or the enforcement plans. Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge has blocked enforcement of Portland's daytime camping ban from starting on Monday.

Driving the news: Judge Rima Ghandour issued a preliminary injunction against the ordinance late Thursday afternoon, saying that five unhoused plaintiffs who sued over the measure "made a sufficient showing … that, upon a final hearing," they may fully prevail.

Why it matters: With thousands of Portland-area unhoused residents, city leaders — facing political backlash over trash and tents — have struggled to manage camping in public spaces.

What they're saying: Lauren Armony of Sisters of the Road, which filed a declaration in court asking for an injunction, said pausing enforcement until the lawsuit is settled will reduce anxiety she's heard from unhoused people since the camping restrictions passed in June.

  • "We can't tell them how long it's going to last, but just having more time where people are not as forcefully displaced is good."

Details: Plaintiffs' attorney Ed Johnson of the Oregon Law Center argued in court on Thursday in favor of an injunction, saying that Portland's restrictions were "exponentially unreasonable" for people experiencing homelessness.

  • "People look out their window and they see tents, and nobody wants to see that," Johnson told the judge. "But there's nothing about this ordinance that is going to solve that problem."

The other side: Senior deputy city attorney Naomi Sheffield told the court the city doesn't have many tools to address the "ongoing crisis" of homelessness, and argued that the restrictions follow a 2021 Oregon state law specifically designed to let cities limit camping — but not criminalize it if people have nowhere else to go.

  • Portland's rules are intended to provide "some regulation so that we can maintain the use of our public space for everyone," she said.

Of note: Mayor Ted Wheeler, responding to the court action, said in a statement late Thursday: "I believe the status quo is not working, but the court's decision leaves the status quo in place.

  • "The city will abide by the court's preliminary order while continuing to fight in court for the city's right to adopt reasonable regulations on unsanctioned camping."

Catch up quick: The City Council passed the broad camping restrictions in June but did not enforce them right away.

  • Officials said they needed time to educate unhoused people.
  • In September, Johnson filed the lawsuit, saying the restrictions unconstitutionally punish people for doing ordinary activities on the street when they have nowhere else to go.

How it works: The new rules — now on hold — formally govern the "time, place and manner" in which people who have no other shelter can and cannot camp within city limits, including prohibiting campsites from being set up anywhere between 8am and 8pm.

  • Additionally, camping would not be allowed in areas marked in red on this map — including parks, the main pedestrian zone of sidewalks and areas close to schools.
Two phots of tents on sidewalks, one with belongings in the center of the sidewalk and one with no nearby belongings and erected out of the pedestrian zone.
Portland's camping restrictions, now on hold, provide details on which part of the sidewalk tents and belongings can and cannot occupy during the overnight window they're allowed. Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

Police planned to give two written warnings — at least 24 hours apart — before issuing a citation of not more than $100 or 30 days in jail.

  • If a person is offered a shelter bed and takes it, they wouldn't be cited.

What's next: The injunction means the camping regulations are on pause while the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Portland's rules moves forward.


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