FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2022
PORTLAND, Ore. — On behalf of Street Roots, the ACLU of Oregon today sent the City of Portland a notice of potential legal action in regards to Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan’s proposal to displace people who live on the streets and forcibly relocate them to mass camps. The notice demands a postponement of the City Council vote on the proposal, currently scheduled for a hearing starting at 2 p.m. today. It also requests public records encompassing written communications among public officials and other key parties related to the policy and the public comment process.
"We’re asking for the postponement of today’s vote so Portland’s residents can feel confident about their government’s policy making process.”
“As I watched Street Roots vendors wait to give their testimony at last week’s hearing, I felt something was very wrong,” said Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots. “The city needs to provide everybody equal access to the governing and public participation process, regardless of their income or title. The City especially has the duty to seek input from houseless people — the ones whose lives will be most directly impacted by this proposal. We’re asking for the postponement of today’s vote so Portland’s residents can feel confident about their government’s policy making process.”
Street Roots co-hosted a separate public forum on Tues., Nov. 1, to ensure houseless individuals could be heard.
“Speakers with lived experience of houselessness told Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Ryan that mass camps aren’t just cruel, they actively make it harder for folks to get back on their feet,” said Sand. “Why is the City rushing a proposal to criminalize houselessness when we have successful alternative models like Move-In Multnomah which is cheaper than congregate shelters — and houses people within weeks?”
The notice outlines that the City’s proposal to force houseless people into mass camps is likely unconstitutional based on prior court rulings and that the public process that Wheeler and Ryan have facilitated has been highly undemocratic. The ACLU of Oregon identified potential First Amendment and Eighth Amendment claims against the City.
The arguments made in the notice include:
- Portland has a long history of failed attempts to use criminal punishment as a means to control where and when unhoused Oregonians can and cannot sleep. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly, and as recently as a month ago, flatly rejected criminally enforced camping bans as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishments. It would be a waste of taxpayer resources for the City to push forward with its current version of a camping ban which is likely to result in costly and lengthy litigation.
- There is evidence that city officials are working with moneyed and business interests to push this policy forward, while drowning out the voices of everyday Oregonians and directly impacted houseless people. The public hearing last week appeared to prioritize business and real estate voices ahead of others who wished to speak about the ban, running afoul of the viewpoint neutrality that the First Amendment requires.
- Finally, the rushed timing of this symbolic proposal and vote, days before a divisive City Council election, is suspect.
Equal access and public trust in the integrity of the City’s policy making process are paramount.
The ACLU of Oregon requests the following actions from the city:
- Postpone the City Council vote.
- Hold another public hearing with equity of access as top priority.
- Preserve and provide public records encompassing communications between public officials and key stakeholders regarding the proposal and the public comment process.
“The First Amendment requires that the government remain viewpoint neutral in regulating public comment spaces, and ensures that the public be able to hear the diverse viewpoints of all Oregonians. It undermines our ever-fragile democracy when a wealthy few can ally themselves with elected officials to amplify a select harmful narrative about the most disenfranchised of our neighbors,” said Kelly Simon, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. “The ACLU of Oregon is committed to fighting for all Oregonians’ equal access to public discourse.”
If anyone has information about unlawful or improper actions by City of Portland’s elected or appointed officials or staff related to the proposal to displace people who live on the streets and forcibly relocate them to mass camps, contact the ACLU of Oregon via this form: https://intake.aclu-or.org.
About ACLU Oregon
The ACLU of Oregon is an affiliate of the national ACLU which has affiliates in 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The ACLU of Oregon is a nonpartisan, nonprofit membership organization with more than 28,000 members statewide. The organization works in the courts, in the legislature, and in communities to defend and advance our civil liberties and civil rights under the U.S. and Oregon constitutions and the laws of the United States and Oregon.