Judge Finds in Favor of Medford City: Camping Ordinances are Constitutional
MEDFORD, Ore. — A federal judge found that Medford’s time-place-manner camping ordinances are constitutional. The judge cited that the city’s response to the homelessness crisis differs from landmark cases in Grants Pass and Boise, Idaho.
Six homeless individuals in Medford City filed a civil rights lawsuit, with local defense attorney Justin Rosas representing them. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Magistrate Mark D. Clarke found in favor of the city.
Rosas represented Andre Bilodeau, Robert Bessy, Amber McNab, Greg Killingsworth, Travis Greiner, and Ronda Bjork in their lawsuit. He claimed that the city upheld ordinances that violated their constitutional rights. One such ordinance was time-place-manner restrictions on unauthorized camping.
Clarke upheld the 2021 ordinances on camping laws in Medford’s municipal code as constitutional. His recommendations were filed on January 16, and summary judgment on all claims was granted in the city’s favor.
Clarke wrote, “Medford City’s recent ordinances, enacted in response to the homeless crisis, were found to be constitutional.”
In 2022, Medford City passed a camping ordinance that sets a limit on time-and-place camping with no complete ban, though. The ordinance followed class-action rulings in Martin vs. City of Boise and Johnson vs. City of Grants Pass. The first addressed the arrest of people sleeping on the streets as unusual and cruel. The second expanded protection for street camping.
Clarke’s recommendations and findings were not rulings, leaving it to Judge Ann Aiken for a final order. Rosas and the city of Medford needed to file objections to Aiken by January 30. However, since Wednesday, court records have indicated that neither party filed objections.
On Wednesday, Eric Mitton, Medford City Attorney, emailed a statement:
“The city of Medford has accepted the thorough and well-reasoned conclusions and recommendations of the court. The city is grateful that the court acknowledged that its multifaceted strategy for addressing homelessness complies with all constitutional requirements.”
Rosas’ office did not respond.
Clarke concluded that the Boise case’s precedent followed Grants Pass’s lack of shelters at the time. Grants Pass had no shelters that fell within the standards of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, while Boise had three shelters that had privately run religious affiliations.
Clarke wrote, “Martin’ (vs. Boise) held that the city’s lack of adequate shelter and its practice of punishing the act of sleeping constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which violated the Eighth Amendment.”
Unlike Grants Pass, Medford’s response to the homelessness crisis constituted at least four pages of Clarke’s 23-page filing. It talks about the city’s collaboration with Rogue Retreat, which included using city-owned land for building the Kelly Shelter on Market Street, the new Navigation Center, and the tiny house campground Hope Village on West McAndrews Road.
Clarke draws attention to Medford’s estimated spending of $19.5 million over the last three years on homeless services. In order to pass Oregon House Bill 3115 in 2021, the city worked with the Oregon Legislature, the League of Oregon Cities, and the Oregon Law Center. The bill sought to incorporate the standards set forth by the court decisions into state legislation.
Clarke wrote, “When a city contributes to the provision of multiple shelters, it shows a dedication to supporting its homeless and supports the reasonableness of any limitations that may be in place. The court finds little use in criticizing those efforts.”
The Boise and Grants Pass decisions, as Clarke noted, were not intended to impose obligations on local governments to “provide adequate shelter or eliminate every restriction.”
Clarke wrote, “The foundation of “Blake” (vs. Grants Pass) is that cities have two-fold responsibilities: they have to safeguard the welfare and safety of their citizens and uphold the dignity of their homeless population.”
According to Clarke, the city of Grants Pass was allowed to “institute time-and-place restrictions for homeless individuals.” He cites a section of the 2020 Grants Pass ruling where, as long as they do not forbid people from using materials to stay warm and dry, they may ban tents in public parks.
As Clarke noted, the Medford City ordinance falls within these guidelines. The six plaintiffs, therefore, did not face an outright ban on city-wide camping or sleeping.
Rosas had maintained that Medford punishes the status of homelessness. They do so by punishing sleeping, resting, or seeking shelter in public. The court rejected his class-action status in late 2022, citing Rosas’ inexperience with complicated civil cases and insufficient evidence.
Clarke showed that Rosas’ arguments lacked support. He provided no evidence on behalf of four of the six homeless people named in the lawsuit. Clarke criticized Rosas for his response brief of 851 pages.
Clarke stated in the filing that the nine exhibits submitted lacked proper formatting. It came without page numbers, had inadequate references, and overall failed to clarify how the exhibitions support the plaintiff’s constitutional claims directly.
Clarke also noted that the current legal precedent does not regard homeless people as a protected class. Although it is true that the homeless constitute a vulnerable group, the court must follow precedent. The plaintiffs did not provide sufficient support to establish homelessness as a protected or suspect class.