ACLU Report Reveals Oregon Cities and Counties Target Homeless

Proposed “Right to Rest” Legislation Addresses Overcriminalization, Extends Privacy Rights to Oregon’s Homeless

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 5, 2017

CONTACT: Sarah Armstrong, sarmstrong@aclu-or.org, m - 503.756.3147

PORTLAND, Ore. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) today released a report that reveals the widespread proliferation of city and county laws in Oregon that criminalize people experiencing homelessness. The report analyzed ordinances in 69 of Oregon’s most populous cities and 21 corresponding counties, and found 224 laws that restrict, criminalize, or punish people for performing life sustaining activities in a public space. 

“We are making it a crime for people to be homeless,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy project. “Basic acts of survival are being criminalized.”

“This is not one city that has gone rogue,” said Kimberly McCullough, policy director at the ACLU of Oregon. “The trend towards criminalization is statewide, as is the housing crisis. As rents climb, cities across Oregon are seeing huge increases in the number of residents experiencing homelessness. Oregon should focus on addressing the root causes of homelessness and poverty, but instead we’re seeing hundreds of laws that punish the homeless. Fines and criminal records only make it harder for people to secure stable housing.” 

Advocates say the state legislature could address many of the issues that homeless people face in Oregon by passing the Right to Rest Act, HB 2215. The act extends privacy rights to people who live in public by prohibiting law enforcement, security personnel, or public employees from harassing, citing, or arresting people who are resting (sit, stand, and sleep), eating or sharing food, praying, or occupying a legally parked vehicle. The bill has not yet had a committee hearing scheduled, and the deadline is Friday. 

“People who live on the streets have to make difficult choices that have criminal implications, simply to go about their lives,” said Karissa Moden, systemic change director at Sisters of the Road. “They have to ask, ‘Do I sleep in the park and violate the camping ban, or do I trespass onto private property? Where can I go to the bathroom? Where can I set my stuff down without attracting attention from police?’”

The ACLU of Oregon report finds:

- A majority of cities and counties surveyed have laws that prohibit sleeping or camping. Twenty-seven cities outlaw sleeping or camping anywhere in public. Thirty-one cities in Oregon restrict sleeping in one’s vehicle even if it is in a normal parking place and posing no safety hazard.

- Forty-four cities and seven counties have curfews that penalize minors who are on the streets unaccompanied by an adult during nighttime hours. But advocates say homeless youth often sleep in highly visible places for safety, and curfew laws push them to remote areas where they are vulnerable to victimization.

- Twenty-four cities and one county in Oregon have also prohibited trespass within their municipal code. This is in addition to the state-level trespass laws that already allow any city to cite for trespassing.

Cities across the state are seeing an increase in homelessness. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), between 2014 and 2015, the number of unhoused Oregonians increased nine percent, the third highest increase nationwide. In 2015, HUD counted 13,100 adults and children experiencing homelessness in Oregon. Of those Oregonians experiencing homelessness, HUD found one-in-ten was a military veteran, one-in-seven was identified as having a serious mental illness, one-in-five reported being a victim of domestic violence, and nearly one-in-three were families.

McCullough said Oregon’s homeless population is likely larger than the HUD count reveals. For example, the Oregon Department of Education counted 21,340 K-12 students who experienced homelessness at some point in the 2015-16 academic year. The HUD count also does not capture people who are “couch surfing” or temporarily living with friends or relatives.

Without action from the state legislature, Eugene and Portland have declared housing and homelessness in a “state of emergency.”

Decriminalizing Homelessness: Why Right to Rest Legislation is the High Road for Oregon

Executive Summary | printer-friendly version

Full Report | printer-friendly version

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