Fed Ruling on Grants Pass Homeless Laws Could Impact Corvallis

Earlier this summer, a federal judge ruled that Grants Pass was violating homeless residents’ Eighth Amendment rights by issuing fines for sleeping outside, as reported by OregonLive. The ruling follows a precedent set by the 2018 Martin v. City of Boise case, where imposing criminal sanctions against homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors and on public property when no alternative shelter was available was ruled a cruel and unusual punishment.  

Citations for “sit-lie laws” often require a court appearance, something that U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke indicated is often unreasonable. Homeless people do not have an address to receive mail, such as a court order, or do not have the means or motivation to show up. Failure to appear results in warrants, which end in arrest the next time that person encounters law enforcement —  an all too common occurrence.  

“Arresting the homeless is almost never an adequate solution because, apart from the constitutional impediments, it is expensive, not rehabilitating, often a waste of limited public resources, and does nothing to serve those homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse addiction,” Clarke said.  

The Oregon Law Center was joined by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in taking on the Grants Pass case. The city can still regulate where and how camping is allowed, however the two concurring rulings puts pressure on cities to rethink their homelessness response.   

Benton County has a growing population of homeless people, increasing 125 percent between 2015 and 2017. The population of sheltered people is far outnumbered by those on the streets. Corvallis specifically forbids sleeping in public places as well as a distinct violation for individuals who sleep on private property, such as churches and businesses, without consent of the owner.  

Clean up for campsites are paid for by taxpayers, which Corvallis city officials previously estimated to cost at least $150,000 annually, as previously reported by the Advocate.  

By Emily Weninger