A decision handed down by the 9th Circuit Court last week says cities cannot prosecute homeless residents from sleeping outside on public property if there are too few shelters for the homeless to use.
The ruling cites the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Local cities say the ruling likely won’t lead to changes here.
Oregon and other Western states are within the purview of the 9th Circuit.
“Our city attorney has reviewed the decision closely and is confident that the city’s overnight camping ordinance, as enforced, meets the spirit of the 9th Circuits Court’s decision,” said Holly Thompson, a spokeswoman in Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle’s office.
Beaverton recently enacted a ban on people sleeping in vehicles parked on the right-of-way. That differs from the court’s ruling in Robert Martin v. City of Boise, Thompson said, which focuses on people sleeping outdoors.
Also, the city is not aggressively enforcing the ban. “To date, there have been two citations issued but both were dismissed when the individuals complied with the ordinance,” Thompson said. “There are currently no active citations.”
Mat dos Santos, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said he doubts Beaverton’s ordinance would pass legal muster, since it speaks of “camps and campsites,” not just cars. “It’s hard for me to believe that law would be interpreted by anyone to mean only vehicles parked in the right-of-way,” he said.
A Tualatin ordinance makes camping a civil infraction, not a crime, according to Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele. “We are looking at the ruling to determine how it might affect our ordinance,” he said.
“That’s a troublesome analysis,” said ACLU’s dos Santos. “They still have to go to court and pay fines that they can’t afford. And if they miss their court date? Now it could be a criminal infraction.”
Jim Wolf, public information officer for the Tigard Police, said that city’s existing ordinance is under review by the city attorney.
The 9th Circuit Court unanimously overturned a district court decision in favor of the city of Boise, Idaho, in a case in which homeless people challenged two city ordinances that barred them from staying overnight on public property.
Judge Marsha S. Berzon noted that some shelters limit the number of days that homeless people can stay, or turned away people who arrive past certain hours.
The ruling also cast doubt on cities’ reliance on faith-based organizations for shelters. “A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs,” Berzon wrote.