© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Poor homeless man or refugee sleeping on the wooden bench on the urban street in the city, social documentary concept, selective focus-cm

Finding the Right Balance

Having completely failed to address the homeless crisis in any meaningful way, Portland politicians have concocted another way of dealing with it. This mostly involves passing legislation telling every other city throughout Oregon to take care of the problem while simultaneously limiting what they actually can do.

Before the Oregon Legislature adjourned on June 26, it passed House Bill 3115. This contentious measure passed the House and Senate on largely party-line votes and was signed by the governor June 23.

It’s based on the 2018 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Martin v. City of Boise case. That ruling essentially stated that the homeless can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are adequate alternatives or the local law includes reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

Even though the Ninth Circuit Court is frequently overturned, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal of the Martin v. Boise decision in 2019. Ever since, municipalities have been examining their options for addressing the homeless crisis while remaining in compliance with the ruling.

The first section of House Bill 3115 requires any local law regulating sitting, laying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outside on public property to be objectively reasonable to the homeless.

If it’s felt that the local ordinance has limitations that aren’t reasonable and are in violation of HB 3115, a homeless person can have a right of action for relief or as a defense to the ordinance. And even though monetary damages are not allowed under the new law, attorney fees are. This will incentivize activist attorneys and organizations to take up cases against local governments attempting to solve their homelessness issues.

An emergency clause was added to the end of HB 3115 so local governments can start reviewing their ordinances to ensure compliance with the new law. The full implementation of HB 3115 is delayed until July 1, 2023 so local governments can develop a plan of how to comply with it.

Back when I served in the Legislature, I always made it a point to vote against any bills that would create unfunded mandates for local governments. Many local governments are small towns with limited tax bases and simply don’t have the time and resources to clean up messes sent to them from bureaucrats and politicians in Salem. Yet that is exactly what has happened here with HB 3115.

We’ve all seen these problems get worse over the last few years. My fear is that the passage of HB 3115, combined with Oregon’s further moves towards the complete decriminalization of drugs, is going to continue this trend.

I’m also fully aware that in politics, there is a pendulum that swings back and forth. And every time it swings too far in one direction, it comes right back.

Oregon’s voters and politicians have decided to take a permissive approach to drugs and homelessness. The results will likely prove disastrous to the average person in this state. However, I remain confident that once that happens, citizens will demand solutions that find the right balance and that properly addresses these problems once and for all.