Pamplin Media Group – Lawyer: Sidewalks blocked by Multnomah County tents, tarps

The county’s budget records list at least 33,500 tents and tarps purchased in a single year.

COURTESY: DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE - One of several photos of a Portland sidewalk completely blocked by homeless tents included in the federal lawsuit.

Multnomah County has purchased and distributed at least 33,500 tents and tarps to homeless people who may have violated the rights of disabled people by blocking sidewalks, claims a lawyer suing the city of Portland.

John DiLorenzo is representing 10 disabled Portlanders who say sidewalk homeless encampments violate their rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He has now issued subpoenas to the district and its affiliated Joint Office of Homeless Services for information about tents and tarps he has distributed to the homeless.

“I strongly suspect that the county handed out new tents just to have the city sweep them up. This totally incoherent and uncoordinated response is akin to trying to go down an escalator. They’re getting nowhere and they’re exhausted,” DiLorezno said in a statement released Wednesday, Oct. 13.

DiLorenzo told the Portland Tribune he learned about the purchases and distributions when one of his researchers discovered county budget documents listing them under the county’s COVID-19 responses. A slide says the county purchased and distributed 6,500 tents and 27,000 tarps as part of its “survival kit” in fiscal 2021. Another slide listed 44,000 tarps at a supply center.

In response to a request for comment, Multnomah County said, “The Joint Office of Homeless Services has dedicated half of its budget this year to expanding and strengthening its shelter system while building a rapid housing system that has helped 4,560 people live Homelessness and moving to one’s own home in the last fiscal year. At the same time, the Homeless Assistance Scheme and Joint Office have continued to provide road safety services.

“Regarding recent legal claims and filings, the county is unable to comment due to possible litigation.”

The subpoenas require the following records:

1. All documents and notices relating to or relating to past, present or proposed purchases of tents, tarpaulins or other temporary outdoor accommodation by the Common Office, including but not limited to receipts, invoices or notices from or with any third party suppliers.

2. All documents and communications relating to or relating to any past, present or proposed distribution of tents, tarpaulins or other temporary outdoor accommodation by the common office, including but not limited to all internal communications and all communications with non-governmental organization, non-profit organization or a similar organization.

CREDIT PHOTO: JOHN DILORENZO - One of Multnomah County's household slides, listing tents and tarps being distributed to the homeless.

3. All documents and communications relating to or relating to any condition or requirement imposed by the Joint Office in connection with the purchase or distribution of tents, tarpaulins or other temporary outdoor accommodation, including but not limited to all internal communications and any Communication with non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, suppliers or similar organizations.

4. All documents and communications pertaining to or relating to proposed future purchases or distributions of tents, tarps or other temporary outdoor housing by the Joint 4 office, including but not limited to all internal communications and all communications with non-governmental organization, non-profit Organization, supplier or similar organization.

The subpoenas also require information about the capacity of homeless shelters in the county.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Oregon on Tuesday, September 6. It claims the city has waived its obligation to keep sidewalks clear of tents for over three years.

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Residents are represented by five Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys, including DiLorenzo, who are demanding that the city immediately sweep all tents off the sidewalks while the lawsuit is pending. These include a student, veterans, small businessmen, a para-Olympian, a ballet company founder and many others, according to a company press release.

The lawsuit is based on a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that designates sidewalks as a “service, program or activity” that must remain accessible to people with disabilities.

“The city has failed and continues to fail to keep its sidewalks clear of debris and tent camps, which is necessary to make its sidewalks easily accessible for those with mobility disabilities. In fact, a significant number of the city’s sidewalks — particularly the city’s busiest business corridors — do not comply with applicable federal laws and regulations because they are blocked by tent camps and associated debris, making the sidewalks inaccessible, dangerous, and unsanitary for those with mobility disabilities will,” the lawsuit says in part.

The lawsuit also asks the court to order the city to provide shelters to all homeless people swept off sidewalks to comply with a 2017 Ninth Circuit Court ruling — Martin v. City of Boise — that prohibits banning camping , when there are not enough beds to shelter them.

“To the extent that the city may not be able to clear the city’s sidewalks of tent camps due to the restrictions imposed by Martin v. City of Boise, (we are applying) to purchase an order requiring the city to build emergency shelters.” or otherwise provide in which to house the vulnerable individuals affected by the court ruling,” the lawsuit reads.

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The suit includes several photos of sidewalks blocked by homeless tents in various parts of the city. Some of the most obvious examples include Old Town, Chinatown, Downtown, the Pearl District, Central Eastside, Laurelhurst Park and Sunnyside Elementary School.

“These areas are among the city’s busiest commercial and business corridors and are home to most of the city’s public transportation hubs, as well as Union Station — the city’s only Amtrak train station, providing mobility-impaired ability for business, commerce and travel in and around the city to operate the Autobahn,” the lawsuit states.

You can find one of the subpoenas here.

You can find the suit here.

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