Judge Freezes Portland’s Daytime Camping Ban, Five Days Before Its Enforcement

Five homeless Portlanders sued the city over its daytime camping ban in September. The ban was set to go into effect Monday.

A Multnomah County circuit judge ruled on Thursday that the city of Portland’s daytime camping ban, which officials intended to begin enforcing Nov. 13, must be paused until a lawsuit challenging the ban’s legality is settled. Five unhoused Portlanders filed suit against the city in late September, arguing the ban first announced in the spring was unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit called the ban “objectively unreasonable, cruel, and incomprehensible” and wrote that the penalties are “grossly out of proportion to the ‘offense’ of surviving outside.” (Attorneys for the Oregon Law Center are representing the five plaintiffs.)

Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Oct. 30 that Portland police would begin enforcing the daytime camping ban passed by the City Council last summer. At the time, the city said it would give notice before actually enforcing the ban, which prohibits all daytime camping on public property. “This is that two-week notice,” Wheeler said.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that cities that ban camping must provide sufficient alternative shelter. To get around that, Portland officials are building new, 200-bed shelters and have designed a convoluted system of rules to funnel people on the streets into them—no camping from 8 am to 8 pm and no camping at night for anyone who refuses an available shelter bed. It also bans activities like burning fires and leaving behind trash. After two warnings, violators could face jail time.

It was unclear, however, how aggressively the regulations would be enforced. At the press announcement Oct. 30, newly sworn-in Police Chief Bob Day announced new walking patrols downtown, although the cops’ mission would be more public relations than law enforcement.

“Enforcement will take time,” Wheeler said then, admonishing the public not to dial 911 to report illegal camping. “We ask for your patience.”

That patience must be extended indefinitely after the Thursday ruling by Judge Rima Ghadour.

Attorneys for the city and the plaintiffs made oral arguments to Judge Ghadour on Thursday. Ghadour acted swiftly; later that day, she put a stay on the ban’s enforcement pending litigation.

Lucas Manfield contributed reporting to this story.

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