Businesses Sue Portland, Ore., Over Homeless

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Businesses and neighborhood groups sued Portland on Wednesday for allowing homeless camps and overnight sleeping on sidewalks.
     Rising housing costs in Portland, and other factors, have led to proliferating homeless camps throughout the city, both officially sanctioned and otherwise.
     The Portland City Council declared a housing emergency in October last year, leading to new rules on homeless camps and sleeping on sidewalks.
     In response to the emergency, Mayor Charlie Hales in February issued a policy that allowed people to sleep on public sidewalks in sleeping bags and allowed organized encampments under certain conditions.
     The city allows six or fewer people to sleep in one place, and in homeless camps that are sanctioned by the city. City-sanctioned camps require a “camp host” picked by the city, and bathrooms and sanitation.
     Hales said in January that the change was “a deliberate transition from playing whack-a-mole from having sweeps all the time.”
     Many of the homeless camps are near parks or under bridges. This upsets nearby business owners and residents.
     Led by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Oregon, seven neighborhood associations, businesses and civic groups sued Hales and the city in Multnomah County Court, asking that the camping policy be overturned.
     “Though other larger cities have larger numbers of people experiencing homelessness, Portland ranks fifth highest of major cities for homeless per capita, and Portland has the third highest rate of unsheltered chronically homeless,” the complaint states.
     The business groups acknowledge that homelessness is a result of many factors, including mental illness, drug abuse, and criminal histories that make employment difficult, and that many approaches are needed to address the issue.
     However, “Whatever measures may be necessary, the mayor’s camping policy is not one of them,” the complaint states.
     “The mayor’s camping policy does not put affected individuals into safe housing or save one vulnerable soul from being homeless.”
     The groups seek declaratory and injunctive relief, including a judgment that the camping rules are illegal and an abuse of the mayor’s authority.
     The other plaintiffs are Cartlandia, the Central Eastside Industrial Council, Clean & Safe District, Overlook Neighborhood Association, Pearl District Neighborhood Association and Portland Business Alliance.
     They are represented by Paul Conable and Steven D. Olson with Tonkon Torp.
     In December, the Overlook Neighborhood Association delivered a statement to the City Council criticizing the city’s inaction around a homeless camp called Hazelnut Grove.
     “The city has failed to provide any meaningful boundary or population limits, nor safety and enforcement support for the residents,” the statement said.
     “The number of campers on city property at the site has ballooned beyond the 25 originally discussed for the original camp. By some estimates there are now 55 to 75 residents on the site, most not part of the original group.”
     The mayor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

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