Disabled people in Portland, Oregon, are suing the city, saying they can’t walk on its sidewalks because of sprawling homeless encampments.
The federal class-action lawsuit says the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing homeless tents to block city sidewalks, making it difficult for people in wheelchairs, walkers or canes to use them.
“The entire class of disabled people is routinely denied the benefits of the city of Portland,” said John DiLorenzo, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the US District Court in Portland.
Among the plaintiffs are nine people with disabilities and a caretaker. Among the plaintiffs is Keith Martin, a 71-year-old Portlander who used a wheelchair after suffering a stroke three years ago.
“I couldn’t have breakfast in the morning because the entire pavement was covered with a tent,” Martin said. “I was pushed out into the street and I almost missed a tram that came around the corner.”
Oregon’s homelessness crisis has been fueled by a housing shortage, the coronavirus pandemic, and high levels of drug addiction. Federal data from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that in 2020, 9 percent of teens and adults in Oregon had an illicit drug use disorder. That same year, the state also ranked last in access to drug addiction treatment, according to the survey.
The class action lawsuit seeks to require the city to clear all sidewalks of tent cities and debris, and to “build, purchase or otherwise provide temporary shelters to house vulnerable individuals” who may be affected.
Such measures will make sidewalks safely accessible to people with disabilities, DiLorenzo said, while also providing a safe space for homeless people.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said the mayor is meeting with the city’s attorney before commenting.
About 13 percent of Portland residents live with a disability, including 6 percent with a musculoskeletal disability and 2.4 percent with a visual impairment, according to the lawsuit.
Plaintiff Steve Jackson, 47, is legally blind and walks with a cane. He said the tents prevented him from walking on the sidewalk and getting to bus stops.
“Often times tents block the entire sidewalk where I can’t see them because they weren’t there the day before and I crash into the tent and then people get mad at me and think I’m attacking them,” Jackson said during the speech. press conference.
Multnomah County, home of Portland, had about 3,000 homeless people at the time of the last count as of January 2022, according to county data.
The Portland City Council declared a state of emergency for the homeless in 2015 and has since extended it five times. The measure, which expires in 2025, reduces the red tape associated with setting up homeless shelters.
Despite the city’s years of emergency measures, the estimated number of homeless people in the Portland area rose by 25 percent between 2020 and 2022, according to point-in-time estimates submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This year alone, Wheeler issued four emergency declarations to address homelessness. Most recently, in August, it expanded a previous declaration banning camping along high-speed corridors such as highways to include key walking routes to K-12 schools.
The state has been fighting a debate about the best way to reduce homelessness. Some business groups have called for more camp cleanups and stricter enforcement of no-camping ordinances, while others want more investment in social services and affordable housing.
Oregon legislators approved a budget earlier this year that includes $400 million to address homelessness and housing.
Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on hidden issues.
Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.
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