Coalition sues Portland over homeless camps

A group of businesses and neighborhood associations calling itself Safe & Livable Portland filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Charlie Hales over the mayor’s homeless camp policy.

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The groups filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County circuit court Wednesday.  It claims the mayor doesn’t have the authority to make policy on his own and that the City Council should have voted on the camping policy.

The groups suing the city include the Portland Business Alliance, the Overlook Neighborhood Association, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, and the Central Eastside Industrial Council. A commercial real estate trade group and the Cartlandia food cart pod, located at 82nd avenue, have also signed on.


Mayor Hales announced a new strategy to tackle homelessness — without the approval of City Council — in February. The policy allows people to sleep on sidewalks, but tents are only allowed at certain times in certain locations.

The Portland Business Alliance, the city’s preeminent business lobby, was none too happy with the move, calling instead for additional shelter space.

“Sleeping outside is not a safe solution for anyone,” PBA wrote in an email to its members in February. “This trend is unacceptable. As Portlanders, we should call on the city to inventory all of its unused property and immediately convert as many locations as possible into shelter space.”

(READ MORE: Portland Business Journal)

The Portland Business Journal points out “the crux of the claim is that the camping allowance violates state statute ORS 446.265.”

The lawsuit asks for policy change so that people will no longer be allowed to sleep on sidewalks or encampments.

If successful, the lawsuit would force the City Council to officially greenlight Hales’ plan or revoke it in favor of a compromise that includes public participation and stricter enforcement of existing anti-camping laws.

“If this is an experiment, I think at this point we can call the experiment a failure,” said attorney Paul Conable, a partner at Tonkon Torp who filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven neighborhood and business groups, including the Portland Business Alliance.

City officials weren’t immediately available to comment on the lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Multnomah County Circuit Court. But Josh Alpert, Hales’ chief of staff, previously said that Hales had the authority to allow tent camping and sidewalk sleeping because the mayor – not the City Council – oversees enforcement through the Police Bureau.

(READ MORE: Oregon Live)

Oregon Live posted online; view it here.

In related housing news, Portland’s Housing Bureau awarded $47 million to eight affordable housing projects that will equal 585 new units spread throughout the city.

Updated April 21, 2016 at 9:47 a.m.