Ore. Judge Tosses Bid to Stop Homeless Camping

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A judge granted the city of Portland’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over its policy of allowing homeless people to camp on public property, but gave the plaintiffs time to amend their complaint.
     The city argued that the claims brought a group of local neighborhood associations and businesses raise political questions that cannot be resolved by a court.
     Rising housing costs in Portland and other factors have led to a proliferation of homeless camps throughout the city, both officially sanctioned and otherwise.
     The Portland City Council declared a housing emergency in October 2015, leading to new rules on homeless camps and sleeping on sidewalks.
     In response to the emergency, Mayor Charlie Hales issued a policy this past February allowing people to sleep on public sidewalks in sleeping bags and permitting 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 and 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 to annul the camping policy.
     Hales and the city moved to dismiss the complaint, which Judge Marilyn Litzenberger granted Wednesday after hearing arguments from both sides.
     The homelessness problem in Portland is a political matter, the city’s attorney Harry Auerbach told the court. “It’s not a question that’s amenable to suit.”
     Auerbach also argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t prove a “present or real probable injury” for their declaratory judgment request.
     “They’re asking you to simply say the policy is no good, but not to change anything that happens on the ground,” Auerbach said. “In that context, this court’s decision could have no impact on any of their rights, status or legal interest.”
     Arguing for the plaintiffs, attorney Paul Conable said, “What we requested is simply for you to declare that this policy is unlawful. Were you to do that, our lawsuit would disappear.”
     Conable said he and his clients chose “not to wave the bloody shirt” regarding the actual conditions of homeless encampments and their surroundings.
     “We wanted to make it clear that the focus of this case is not on punishing people who, frequently through no fault of their own, are living on the street,” Conable said.
     The plaintiffs have more evidence to present in an amended complaint, Conable said, “in the kind of detail that anyone who’s been living in the city of Portland for the last six months has probably experienced firsthand.”
     In rebuttal, Auerbach said, “There’s no doubt that the effects of people trying to live on the streets do have impacts on other people. But that’s not the question. The question is whether the mayor’s policy has changed the status quo to the detriment of the plaintiffs.”
     Litzenberger granted the city’s motion to dismiss and gave the plaintiffs 10 days to file an amended complaint with more specific details. She asked the parties to confer about what should be added to the new complaint.

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