Portland settles ADA lawsuit, agrees to remove more homeless camps from sidewalks

Last September a group of disabled residents of Portland filed a lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit argued that by allowing homeless people to set up camp on the sidewalks, the city was effectively no longer compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit featured several examples like this one:


Seven years ago, Mr. Southard suffered a spinal cord injury and became permanently disabled. Mr. Southard has limited mobility and uses a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

Mr. Southard routinely has issues moving through downtown because of tent encampments blocking the sidewalk. Mr. Southard tries to maneuver past encampments to the best of his ability, but frequently finds that he has to avoid using certain sidewalks on certain streets because they are completely blocked by tents, and he is unable to maneuver around them. Mr. Southard has also been unable to use sidewalks due to debris accumulated and generated by the tent encampments. Mr. Southard also uses the parks in downtown Portland less than he used to due to the obstructions and fear for his safety.

Even worse, Mr. Southard has been threatened and harassed by unsheltered persons in tents on numerous occasions while doing nothing but trying to maneuver around their tents. He has been physically assaulted twice outside his home by such persons, has been held against his will in an attempted mugging, and has been chased by an unsheltered person who pushed her way into the lobby of his building. Both he and his building have reported the crimes to police, but the police officers tell him there is nothing that they can do to address the sidewalk blockages caused by the tent encampments.

Today, after months of mediation, the city of Portland settled the lawsuit and agreed that, moving forward, it will clear a lot more tent camps from the sidewalks.


A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit over homeless camping on city sidewalks, according to the law firm representing the Portlanders with disabilities…

As part of the settlement, the law firm says the city agreed to prioritize the removal of campsites that obstruct sidewalks. It would also extend the ban on city employees and contractors handing out tents and tarps, with a few exceptions.

KGW has some additional details:

The city will also commit to removing at least 500 campsites from sidewalks each year unless there are too few to hit that target, and devote a minimum of $8 million to removals for the 2023-24 fiscal year and $3 million per year for the following four years…

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced last week that he was developing a plan to ban camping on city property between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., as well as at all hours near schools, day care centers and shelter sites. That policy is not one of the terms of the settlement, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, but they wrote in an email that it will “work hand in glove” with it.

Mayor Wheeler announced his plan to crack down on sidewalk camping today. It would force the “involuntary homeless” to be off the sidewalks during the daytime. If it’s adopted by the City Council this summer, the plan would give violators two written warnings. Then, after they’ve been warned, they can be fined or jailed for up to 30 days.

Sorry to be negative but this plan seems destined for failure. What certainly will not happen is homeless people taking down their tents each morning and then setting them up at night. Where would they keep them during the day? Since when are the homeless up at 8 am anyway? So very quickly police are going to see that no one is obeying this and they’ll give out a few written warnings but no one will pay the fines and few will wind up in jail.

Mostly it will just sweep people from one sidewalk to another or from sidewalks into local parks. Ultimately, the city still has to abide by the Boise decision which says no homeless person can be forced to move a tent unless there is a bed available for them. The city is supposedly working on creating those beds but it remains to be seen if they’ll have enough to pass muster in court.

My guess is this new plan will appear to work for a couple weeks at best and then the homeless will gradually realize it has no teeth and the police will give up trying and the tents will return to the sidewalks. In the long run, the plaintiffs will likely have to take the city back to court and start the cycle all over again.


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