On Thursday, May 25, the parties to a lawsuit filed by disabled individuals alleging that large homeless encampments make Oregon’s largest city challenging to navigate reached a tentative settlement that calls for removing tents blocking sidewalks in Portland.
A tweet announced that the city of Portland, Oregon, would be clearing sidewalk tents as part of a lawsuit settlement with people who use wheelchairs-
Portland, Oregon, to clear sidewalk tents to settle suit with people with disabilities https://t.co/DXQ66iEyRn pic.twitter.com/9hg9QHmnrT
— CTV News (@CTVNews) May 25, 2023
The September federal class action lawsuit claimed that by permitting tents to block walkways, the city had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiffs included a caretaker and nine individuals who utilize mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, canes, or walkers. There is still the matter of getting the settlement approved by the City Council and the U.S. District Court in Portland.
At the same time that City Council is considering new camping regulations, a resolution has been reached. Changes to the city’s camping law would make it illegal to set up camp anywhere between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., including on sidewalks.
On Wednesday, May 24, Mayor Ted Wheeler will introduce the legislation. At least three big, dedicated campsites will be made available to people experiencing homelessness, as the City Council voted in November to outlaw street camping and make these available gradually.
The city has agreed to clear at least 500 sidewalk-blocking encampments annually for five years as part of a proposed lawsuit settlement. The city will comply if it removes all illegal campsites blocking sidewalks; there are less than 500 of them in a given year.
The city has to set up a 24-hour hotline and an online reporting platform where individuals may upload images of tents blocking sidewalks. It’ll compile information about reported campsites and the measures to address them into a searchable database.
Also, “no camping” signs will be placed in locations where sidewalks are frequently blocked, and the city of Portland will restrict the delivery of tents to people experiencing homelessness.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John DiLorenzo, wrote in an email that he hoped the settlement would make it simpler for individuals with disabilities to get around the city. “People with disabilities deserve to use transportation corridors to pursue their daily activities unimpeded,” he wrote.
As part of the proposed agreement, the city will make no admissions of fault or responsibility. Following Monday, the City Council will likely be presented with the deal.
According to sources, In an email, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “I strongly believe that everyone should have access to sidewalks to navigate the City safely, and this is especially true for Portlanders with mobility challenges.” According to the Mayor, “the settlement that will come before Council next week will help prioritize the City’s efforts to ensure accessibility to sidewalks.”
The people who filed the complaint claimed that inaccessible walkways made their daily routines more challenging and endangered them. One of them is Steve Jackson, who is blind and walks with a cane. He complained that he couldn’t get to bus stations or stroll down the sidewalk because of all the tents.
During a press conference in September, Jackson remarked, “Often tents are blocking the entire sidewalk, where I don’t see them because they weren’t there the day before, and I hit the tent, and then people are mad at me and think I’m attacking them.”
According to the complaint, roughly 13% of Portland residents are disabled. This includes 6% of Portland residents with mobility impairments and 2.4% of Portland residents with sight impairments.
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According to a copy of the settlement that was shared with media by DiLorenzo, the city must allocate at least $8 million in the 2023-2024 fiscal year to ensure that the criteria of the settlement are followed and at least $3 million annually for the following four fiscal years.
It has also agreed to pay reasonable attorney expenses and $5,000 to each of the ten plaintiffs. The high rates of drug addiction, lack of mental health care, and the Coronavirus pandemic have all contributed to Oregon’s homelessness crisis.
Federal point-in-time count data shows that by 2022, the number of homeless persons in Portland’s Multnomah County had risen to over 5,000, a 30% increase from 2019, before the COVID-19 epidemic.