Homeless Population

People prepare for the night outside of the Harmony United Methodist Church which began offering refuge to the transient community last year in Coos Bay.

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On Thursday, House Democrats passed House Bill 3115, which will ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness are protected from fines or arrest for sleeping or camping on public property when there are no other options.

Without adequate alternatives like housing, shelter and safe camping spaces, some Oregonians are left with no option but to sleep outside in public spaces – in a park, under an overpass or wherever they can find shelter and safety.

In 2019, the federal court ruling in the case of Martin v. City of Boise required local governments to reconsider how they treat people who are experiencing homelessness. The court found that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Plainly, local governments cannot adopt ordinances that criminalize homelessness when no alternative is made available. HB 3115 operationalizes the principles of that landmark decision.

“Even prior to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, local governments didn’t have enough shelter space for everyone who needed it, let alone enough permanent affordable housing options,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek (D- North Portland). “This bill is one piece of a much bigger effort to address Oregon’s housing crisis by increasing the state’s supply of affordable housing, supporting Oregonians who are experiencing homelessness, preventing evictions and foreclosures and reducing housing disparities for communities of color.”

House Bill 3115 affirms a key principle of current case law: if a city chooses to regulate “survival activities” like sitting, lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry, those laws must be reasonable. They must take into account the resources available to houseless individuals and the impact of the regulations on persons experiencing homelessness. This statutory framework will also protect individuals experiencing homelessness from fines or arrest for sleeping or camping on public property when there are no other options.

HB 3115, which passed 36-22, now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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