Proposed bill would allow homeless to sleep on public property

Jackson County, Ore. —  A proposed bill in the Oregon legislature would make it legal for the homeless to sleep on public property. The bill is currently in committee. If passed, it would impact places such as Alba Park, the Ashland Plaza, and the Bear Creek Greenway.

NBC5 News spent the day talking with local businesses in Jackson County, as well as community members. All of them, too camera shy to be frank about what they think of the potential for House Bill 2215.

If passed, House Bill 2215 – also known as the Right to Rest Act – would allow the homeless to eat, sleep, and engage in basic life-sustaining activities in public.

“Give it a chance, land should be a human right. Just like food and water,” said Renae Nichols, a Lithia Park visitor.

One of the sponsors for House Bill 2215 is Representative Carla Piluso, from Gresham. In a statement to NBC5 news, Piluso said:

“We should not be criminalizing basic human activities like resting, giving citations to people who cannot afford to pay, and forcing them into the criminal justice system. It is inhumane and counterproductive to people trying to get back up on their feet.

Recent press coverage has been less than accurate, claiming that houseless individuals will be able to camp freely and engage in illegal activities with no recourse. Due to my decades of experience in law enforcement, I can say that this bill will not encourage illegal behavior. Rather, it allows police officers to use their scarce time and resources focusing on actual crimes, rather than criminalizing people who just need a place to exist.

The housing crisis and subsequent surge in homelessness has really increased the urgency for legislation of this kind. There are countless people in this state who are just one rent increase or no cause eviction away from homelessness, and we need to ensure that they are treated fairly in public.

Most of the housing conversations center on increasing supply, affordability, and stability of housing. That is why I worked with my colleagues to pass HB 2004, which increases tenant protections for Oregon renters. We must address our housing crisis with a well-rounded solution, and it is definitely harder to ignore the need to better serve our neighbors who are homeless–that’s why we need bills like HB 2215. While we have heard that the Right to Rest Act is unlikely to move out of committee this session, I remain committed to raising awareness and advocating for the rights of houseless individuals.”

Though, not everyone is convinced.

“Seems like it could be a bad bill, just based on personal experience,” said Jason Bull. Bull is the executive director at Medford Gospel Mission.

He spends his days working with the homeless population.

“Everybody should have equal rights – whether you’re homeless or you’re not homeless,” Bull said.

But Bull isn’t sure the bill would have a positive impact.

“I’m all for opening a door to equal rights, the problem is how wide is this door open,” Bull said.

It’s a fine line bull says should be discussed before politicians move forward with the bill.

“It seems like that bill may enable people to stay into homelessness,” Bull said.

We also spoke with members of the community and local business owners, who said their main concerns are safety and maintaining clean public areas for families.

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