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Oregon legislature passes bill to allow homeless to legally camp on public property

According to House Democrats, HB 3115 "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."

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Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
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The Oregon House passed a bill on Thursday which would allow homeless people to camp on public property without it being a crime, preventing them from receiving fines and arrests while prohibiting local governments from taking criminal action.

House Bill (HB) 3115 passed in a 36-22 vote and now moves to the state Senate, KATU reported.

According to House Democrats, HB 3115 "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."

During the vote, KATU2 reported that House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-North Portland) emphasized the significance the coronavirus pandemic had on the homeless community and expressed that this bill is the first step in addressing the "housing crisis."

"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 Kotek.

"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," Kotek continued.

According to House Democrats, governments can no longer arrest and ticket homeless individuals if they do not offer them a housing alternative.

"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," House Democrats said in a statement.

House Democrats attributed the bill to the federal court ruling in the case of Martin v. City of Boise which made it illegal to fine a person experiencing homelessness without giving them the option of sleeping indoors.

"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," House Democrats said in a statement. "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," the statement continued.

House Democrats laid down the groundwork of the bill and explained that, "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."

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