The Ashland City Council asked staff to research whether the city could be vulnerable to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit because it tickets homeless people for camping in town without providing shelter.

The Ashland City Council asked staff to research whether the city could be vulnerable to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit because it tickets homeless people for camping in town without providing shelter.

The direction came Tuesday night after council members listened to ACLU Southern Oregon Chapter representative Ralph Temple and nearly 30 others — with and without homes — speak out on the issue of homelessness.

Temple asked the council to suspend the police department's enforcement of the city's camping ban until it provides shelter beds.

Ashland has no permanent homeless shelter, but a group of churches opens a cold-weather shelter when temperatures plummet. The First Presbyterian Church is also used as a shelter on Sunday nights, except during the summer. (See correction, below)

"Don't go out of your way to invite a lawsuit," Temple told the council.

In 2003, the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild sued the city of Los Angeles for its ban on homeless people sitting, lying and sleeping in public. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with the ACLU and the lawyers' guild.

Los Angeles agreed to stop enforcing the ban at night until it had built a substantial amount of housing for the homeless.

As part of a settlement, the court's opinion was vacated as moot, so the case is no longer on the books, Temple said.

Back in 2008, when the issue of Ashland's camping ban was also before the Ashland City Council, then-City Attorney Richard Appicello said he did not believe the city needed to lift its camping ban or build shelter beds because there is a shelter in Medford. He said Los Angeles got into trouble because of insufficient shelter throughout the metropolitan area.

— Vickie Aldous

Correction: This paragraph has been corrected to more accurately portray when a shelter is available and who sponsors it.