Grants Pass Restricts Charitable Work Among the Homeless Living on Public Property

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Grants Pass City Council has approved a new ordinance restricting charitable organizations and nonprofits from helping homeless people who live on public property.

UPDATE: Grants Pass Mayor Stymies Bill That Would Hinder Homeless Aid Organizations

The ordinance stipulates that permits will now be required to distribute clothing and food in city parks and other public homeless sites. It also prohibits the distribution of drug paraphernalia, such as clean needles and propane tanks.

Another ruling placed on organizations is that they must report to the city council at least twice a year with details on the number of supplies distributed and the number of homeless people served.


Red Tape and Time Restrictions

The city council’s ordinance introduces red tape and restrictions that could hamper charitable work among the homeless population living in Grants Pass.

Organizations must register with the city for a permit. Once issued, the permit will be valid for four months, after which organizations and nonprofits must re-register to obtain a new one. If a new permit is not issued, the ordinance states that organizations must lodge an appeal with a hearings officer after which the appeal will be re-routed to the Circuit Court in Josephine County.

The city council obtained feedback on the ordinance from the nonprofit HIV Alliance and MINT.


Mayor Must Sign Ordinance

The ordinance was approved by 5-3 votes and must be signed by Grants Pass Mayor, Sara Bristol, who is uncertain in her support of the new rulings.

Bristol says she does not see the need for permits and regulations for “humanitarian social services”. She admitted having misgivings because the number of homeless people in parks has increased over the last four years, raising concerns from neighbors and residents who make use of the recreational facilities offered in these public places.

The co-founder and executive director of MINT, Cassy Leach, says the new ordinance does not make sense and questions the need for restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Cassy points out that Grants Pass is a city that offers little to no resources for its homeless population. The ordinance will “add more restrictions to a vulnerable population.”  MINT is a Josephine County-based nonprofit providing services to homeless people.


Ordinance Criminalizing Homelessness

In 2020, a Medford court found that Grants Pass ordinances regulating homelessness were unconstitutional. The court found that the measures violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause and the Excessive Fines Clause contained in the Eighth Amendment. The new ordinance is also headed to the U.S. Supreme Court as it is considered as criminalizing homelessness. The case will be heard in April and could impact homelessness regulations throughout Western Oregon.

Grants Pass has been operating under a court injunction since late 2020 that prohibits the council from enforcing ordinances relating to camping or criminal trespassing on city parks, except for Reinhart Volunteer Park. This opened the door to homeless people to set up “home” in city parks.

Read: Grants Pass Joins Battle To Break Legal Chain Protecting Homeless Encampments

The latest ordinance is described as addressing “ongoing incompatible uses in city parks and public property” in the city council agenda.

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