When the Lord gets ready, you gotta move

I see that the powers that be in lovely Seaside, Oregon have swept a notorious homeless camp off a city lot and passed an ordinance that says you can sleep there, but you have to leave by 8 a.m. A threat of a daily sweep, as it were.

And so the campers have gone elsewhere.

OPB, which is knocking 'em dead these days, has the story here.

Hard on the campers? Yes. But maybe it will have a positive effect on those still capable of turning their lives around. And the neighbors deserve better.

There's some vague talk in the article about the legality of what Seaside is up to. The story notes that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court whose jurisdiction includes Oregon, has limited what government can do to restrict camping. The 2018 decision on the subject is Martin v. Boise, which was argued right here in Portland. The opinion is here, and worth reading. At least, the heart of the matter is; it starts on page 28.

Different people have different impressions about what that decision means, but to me it doesn't say that the Seaside ordinance is unconstitutional. In a footnote, the court limited its holding pretty specifically:

Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible. See Jones, 444 F.3d at 1123. So, too, might an ordinance barring the obstruction of public rights of way or the erection of certain structures. Whether some other ordinance is consistent with the Eighth Amendment will depend, as here, on whether it punishes a person for lacking the means to live out the “universal and unavoidable consequences of being human” in the way the ordinance prescribes....

Seaside seems to be taking the court up on these suggestions. Would that Portland had the fortitude to do the same.

Another footnote leaves food for thought:

In Joel v. City of Orlando, 232 F.3d 1353, 1362 (11th Cir. 2000), the Eleventh Circuit upheld an anti-camping ordinance similar to Boise’s against an Eighth Amendment challenge. In Joel, however, the defendants presented unrefuted evidence that the homeless shelters in the City of Orlando had never reached capacity and that the plaintiffs had always enjoyed access to shelter space. Id. Those unrefuted facts were critical to the court’s holding. Id. As discussed below, the plaintiffs here have demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether they have been denied access to shelter in the past or expect to be so denied in the future. Joel therefore does not provide persuasive guidance for this case.

And so if you build enough shelter beds so that they never reach capacity, maybe you can prohibit camping outright. I'm not sure that Portland's shelters reach capacity too often, even now. But set up enough shelter beds, and it seems to me the Ninth Circuit case should not be a problem. So don't let the politicians hide behind a false reading of the court's opinion. Make them do their jobs.


  1. There will NEVER be enough beds because people move here in droves. If you're a drug addict, you know that you can move here and do whatever you want- accumulate garbage around camp sites, shoplift for drug money, etc etc.and never have to be responsible for themselves. Other cities have been sending their homeless people to Portland for decades. I remember going down to SF for a wedding in 1986 and reading in the Chronicle that Mayor Feinstein bragged that "SF didn't have a homeless problem because SF BOUGHT ONE WAY BUS TICKETS to Portland OR." She stated that their homeless are told "hey go to Portland, you can get food stamps without an address, and they have great social services". That was many years ago, and now we have junkies moving here specifically because they won't get busted for any amount of drugs, or arrested for shoplifting, and so on. I am SO sick of this dysfunctional city.


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