Oregon’s “Right to Rest” Law Would Decriminalize Public Camping

The Right to Rest Act is the proposed name of a new piece of legislation in the Oregon legislature. Camping in public spaces would no longer be illegal under House Bill 3501. Jimmy Jones leads the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency as its executive director. Jones acknowledged the validity of the case for providing permanent protections to homeless people.

“Most of the advocate community in the state want to establish a constitutional right to exist, and I am very sympathetic with that position because I don’t believe that when people lose their housing they lose their legal and constitutional rights,” he said.

Jones said that safeguards already exist. For example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that bans on items like tents were unconstitutional in September. Jones referred to a 2021 Oregon statute that mandates the posting of an intent to trespass notice before to a sweep and calls for local governments to assist with the storage of property.

Oregon's "Right to Rest" Law

“I do think we’ve reached a happy medium in this state. I know that it doesn’t go far enough for some advocates who want to establish a constitutional right to be left alone. But we have made some progress,” he said.

Cathy Clark is an active member of the board of directors for the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance. Clark said that in recent years, public camping has become a major issue in the Salem region.

“We all know what happened when we were not able to access people camping in the ODOT rights of way and we ended up with people who were dead. So, that’s the most extreme, and unfortunately, it’s not rare enough,” she said.

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Now, according to Clark, it’s time to start pointing the needy in the direction of help. “What we’ve already done is worked with people who are trying to camp and set up spaces in uninhabitable areas to get to appropriate and safe places,” she said.

Clark noted the significance of this in light of the forthcoming rise in state financing for providing low-cost housing and shelter space.

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Louis Ebert

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