Federal law affecting homeless in Oregon

MEDFORD, Ore. — Cities can no longer prosecute people for sleeping on public streets if they have nowhere else to go. That’s the ruling from a Federal Appeals Court, which found that doing so violates an individual’s constitutional rights.

With many cities across the U.S. currently struggling with homelessness, the court’s ruling may have a significant impact. Essentially, this ruling means police can not issue citations for sitting, lying, or resting in public spaces.

“If we don’t want them sleeping on the streets, then we need to begin identifying places where people can go to…,” said Matthew Vorderstrasse, Rogue Retreat.

On Tuesday, a Federal Court ruled that issuing citations for sleeping outside in public space violates Eighth amendment protections. Those protections prohibit “cruel and unusual” punishments or punishments disproportionate to the severity of a crime.

“That then takes what a lot of municipalities have been doing with illegal camping tickets and exclusion zones and so far and makes it a little more difficult…,” said Vorderstrasse.

That may mean certain laws prohibiting camping in public places like the Bear Creek Greenway could be null and void. That’s because the ruling doesn’t just apply to Boise, but to Western states like Oregon.

For local officials, it’s not clear yet just what this means.

“We’re not Boise, Idaho. we all have different ordinances and different laws and so we’re studying this now to see how it impacts us,” said John Vial, Jackson County Roads and Parks Department.

But local homeless services organization, Rogue Retreat, says the ruling is an opportunity to make strides in ending the homeless problem.

“We’re hoping that this will expand the conversation to where we’re now actively looking at where people can go to when their homeless…,” said Vorderstrasse.

The federal ruling is already affecting local law enforcement.

Medford Police say their legal department has advised them not to enforce the city’s camping ban until further notice.

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