Law group promises to sue City of Medford over proposed camping ordinance

MEDFORD, Ore. — As the City of Medford considers an ordinance to restrict camping and sleeping in public places, a group of local attorneys has said that they will sue the City on behalf of homeless people who could be punished or displaced by the new policies.

According to a statement from attorney Justin Rosas, a team of local lawyers plans to hold a press conference at Alba Park on Thursday to unveil the lawsuit “on behalf of a number of our unhoused neighbors.”

“Lawyers for Justice, a team of local attorneys dedicated to providing a voice to those too often unspoken for in our society, has commissioned a crew of volunteers led by the wonderful Jim Yarbrough who have been walking the greenway, meeting with the unhoused, hearing their experiences and then incorporating those into declarations. We have walked alongside them,” Rosas wrote.

“It is clear that the City has failed to meet the standards enunciated in Boise v. Martin and that often the reports of space at Rogue Retreat, who does wonderful work, are overstated and exaggerated,” Rosas continued. “A few minutes along the greenway and anyone would be able to tell that we do not have sufficient low barrier housing or services in our city.”

Boise v. Martin is one of several lawsuits, including Blake v. Grants Pass, that Medford has attempted to skirt with the proposed ordinance. In the former case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.

Medford’s original proposal would ban tent camping on public property year-round, but allow sleeping without a tent during all but the summer months. Opponents of the proposal have sharply criticized the blanket ban on tent camping and the steep penalties that would accompany violations.

Supporters of the ordinance argue that stiffer penalties are needed to discourage violations, and that the bans on sleeping and tent camping on public property — particularly during the summer — are needed to help prevent wildfires and other safety hazards.

Rosas said that Lawyers for Justice encourages the Medford city council to vote down the ordinance, send back previous ordinances for repeal, and start a Boise commission to examine the “City’s failure to provide adequate care or treatment to our unhoused.”

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