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Portland sued over homeless camping

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - A lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court says Portland's relaxed camping policies are inhumane and illegal.A coalition of business and neighborhood organization is suing the city to overturn Mayor Charlie Hales' policy of allowing homeless on unused city property.

The lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court says the policy — which Hales has called an experiment — is illegal and inhumane.

"Creating campgrounds throughout Portland creates health and safety risks. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Mayor’s Camping Policy is that it gives the illusion of providing a solution, while diverting attention and resources from the necessary long-term solutions that would provide safe, warm, and habitable shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness. Portland can and must do better," reads the suit.

Hales' office says the city has a policy against commenting on pending litigation.

The suit was filed by a coalition including: the Building Owners and Managers Association of Oregon; Cartlandia; the Central Eastside Industrial Council; the Clean & Safe District; the Overlook Neighborhood Association; Pearl District Neighborhood Association; and the Portland Business Alliance.

The coalition calls itself Safe & Livable Portland. It is represented by Paul Conable, a partner at Tonkon Torp.

The suit is challenging the "Safe Sleep Policy" announced by Hales in February but not officially approved by the City Council.

“What’s so great about Portland is there’s always a public process. There are always committees and we have input. We don’t always get what we want, but at least we’re listened to,” says Susan Steward of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “There was nothing. All of a sudden this just happened.”

The Overlook Neighborhood Association says homeless camps in the area are out of control. Members are calling the city out for not listening.

“City hall has not been engaging with neighborhoods, businesses and residents of Portland in developing a comprehensive strategy to helping our homeless communities,” Overlook neighborhood resident Chris Trejbal said.

Trejbal says the biggest concern is that Mayor Hales acted alone.

“We aren’t a city that gives one man, the mayor, complete authority over how we’re going to deal with a challenge to the city of such tremendous scope,” Trejbal said.

Another plaintiff, the Central Eastside Industrial Council, previously challenged the council's decision to relocate the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp to inner Southeast Portland at the state Land Use Board of Appeals. The case has not yet been decided.

The suit was filed as Multnomah County is poised to assume more responsibilities for homeless services in the region. A plan drafted by County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Portland Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman would create a Joint City/County Office of Homeless Services that would be located in county offices and report to Kafoury. It has not yet been decided who would be in charge of homeless camps, however.

You can read the suit here.

KOIN News 6 contributed to this story.