Oregon communities must rewrite local rules to allow Oregonians to sit, lie, sleep and keep warm and dry on public property in most circumstances.
House Bill 3115, which passed the Senate on Wednesday afternoon and is en route to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk, is a response to a 2018 landmark homelessness case that impacted most Western states with an intent to better support individuals experiencing homelessness.
While local governments should already be following rules set forth by the case known as Martin v. Boise, the bill, written at the behest of House Speaker Tina Kotek, forces cities to officially change any ordinance language still on the books to be in line with the court decision.
In its ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said governments cannot criminalize conduct that is unavoidable as a result of experiencing homelessness. To punish a homeless individual for sleeping outside when there aren’t enough shelter beds would be comparable to punishing that individual for the fact that they are homeless, a consequence the court described as cruel and unusual.
Alison McIntosh, policy director for the Oregon Housing Alliance, said in a letter supporting the bill that Martin on its own doesn’t provide clarity about what public property people are allowed to sleep on. Also, she said, cities have worked around Martin by enforcing “no camping” rules on some public property while not enforcing it on other public land.
“This does not solve the problem, though, for either people experiencing homelessness or law enforcement,” she wrote. “It does not provide people experiencing homelessness clear guidance about where they can or cannot sit or sleep.”
McIntosh said the bill is a step in the right direction.
While the Martin case could be overturned in the future, the new law would still protect unsheltered individuals sleeping on public land.
The bill also goes a step further than the court case with the addition of the demand to allow people to engage in activities necessary to “keep warm and dry.” This could include things like pitching a tent on public property to stay protected from severe weather.
Cities have until July 1, 2023, to update their ordinance language.
Under these new rules, cities can still decide what is considered reasonable enforcement. This means a city could prevent someone from sleeping on one piece of land if it clearly makes other public land available for individuals experiencing homelessness to sleep on. If a city wants to completely prohibit people from sleeping on public land, the city must first provide enough housing or emergency shelter beds for every person who is experiencing homelessness within that jurisdiction.