Medford attorney sues the city for current and proposed camping laws

MEDFORD, Ore. – It hasn’t become law yet, but a Medford attorney is already filing a lawsuit against the city. He claims the law targets the homeless.

Justin Rosas who’s part of Lawyers for Justice, a collection of lawyers announced plans to sue the city of Medford this week.

He told NBC5 News, he’s filing a class-action lawsuit in federal court. He said he’s suing the city not just for the new proposed law, which he calls brutal. He also says it will displace and arrest those in need of housing and services. In addition, he’s suing over its current camping laws, which he claims are unconstitutional and fail to meet basic human rights.

“It’s disenfranchising, it doesn’t fit into what I believe as a Christian. It’s just a sad way of trying to deal with this problem,” said Rosas.

He’s hoping the suit will not only start a conversation about the unhoused but create change for those who live on the Bear Creek Greenway. Rosas told NBC5 News he’s hoping the City of Medford can use Grants Pass as a model.

Below is Justin Rosas’s statement.

For too long, our City has shoved aside its impoverished and unhoused. We are losing the race against poverty, substance abuse issues and lack of access to real mental health treatment. We live in a city with a clearly unconstitutional camping ban ordinance that fails to even meet the basic human rights of our beloved Constitution. The city’s proposed solution to that is to stop enforcing it and instead enforce other laws that have the same effect. Instead of repealing it, and working on a humane solution, the city counselors are prepared to pass a new brutal law that will displace and arrest those most in need of adequate housing and services. This is a costly, inhumane, unlawful and regressive attempt to cover up a problem instead of working to actually fix it. 

As the pandemic has raged through our communities and ravaged not only our health but our economy, we have seen the fruit of our misdeeds pop up all along the greenway, seeing more and more of our neighbors having to live in the open, before our eyes. Running along the greenway, I cannot help but think of the words of a local teacher and friend who said “As I ran down the Greenway when it was 29 degrees this morning, passing countless tents, trying not to imagine how horrible the night must have been, I found myself getting more and more angry.

I am tired of living in a country where countless people freeze at night because we lack adequate housing and service for the homeless. My family is housed, clothed, fed and can go to the doctor when they get sick. I just want the same for my neighbor.”

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. 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. 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.

We will be holding a press conference tomorrow, April 1st at Noon in Alba Park to announce a lawsuit against the City of Medford on behalf of a number of our unhoused neighbors.
We encourage the city council to vote down this proposed ordinance, to send back the previous ordinances for repeal and to immediately start a Boise commission meant to confront our City’s failure to provide adequate care or treatment to our unhoused.

Below is the City of Medford’s response.

The City Attorney’s Office has read Mr. Rosas’s statement and respectfully disagrees.  The proposed amendment is not a city-wide ban on sleeping on public property, but instead the proposed ordinance spells out when, where and how people may rest/sleep on public property.  The Martin v. Boise and the Blake v. Grants Pass cases drew distinctions between city-wide bans on sleeping outside, which are only permissible if there are shelter beds available for all unhoused individuals, and time-place-manner regulations.  The Blake case explained:

Just like in Martin [v. Boise], this holding in no way dictates to a local government that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the street at any time and at any place…The City may implement time and place restrictions for when homeless individuals may use their belongings to keep warm and dry and when they must have their belonging packed up. The City may also implement an anti-camping ordinance that is more specific than the one in place now. For example, the City may ban the use of tents in public parks without going so far as to ban people from using any bedding type materials to keep warm and dry while they sleep. The City may also consider limiting the amount of bedding type materials allowed per individual in public places…Grants Pass would retain a large toolbox for regulating public space without violating the Eight Amendment.

Similarly, House Bill 3115, a joint effort of Oregon Law Center (the law group that filed the Blake case) and the League of Oregon Cities, states that cities may implement reasonable time-place-manner regulations regarding sleeping on publicly-owned property.

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