Oregon Democrats have proposed a bill that would decriminalize public camping and allow homeless people to sue for as much as $1,000 if they’re “harassed.”
House Bill 3501, also known as the “Right to Rest Act,” was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Farrah Chaichi in an attempt to protect the homeless population from “harassment, citation or arrest” by law enforcement, public or private security, or employees of local governments.
“There are more than 220 local laws in Oregon criminalizing homelessness, which effectively means if you are ever unable to afford housing, and you don’t have friends or family that you can crash with, or rely on for shelter, you are criminalized,” Chaichi said.
The bill will give homeless people “a privacy interest and a reasonable expectation of privacy in any property belonging to the person, regardless of whether the property is located in a public space.”
It would also grant homeless people permission “to use public spaces in the same manner as any other person without discrimination based on their housing status” and to “move freely in public spaces without discrimination and time limitations that are based on housing status.”
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If passed, the bill would also allow homeless people to sue for up to $1,000 if they are told to relocate or “harassed.”
Jimmy Jones, the executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said he is “sympathetic” to the position of the Democratic lawmakers pushing for the bill to be passed.
“Most of the advocate community in the state really want to establish a constitutional right to exist, and I am very sympathetic with that position because I don’t believe that when people lose their housing they lose their legal and constitutional rights,” said Jones.
As Democratic lawmakers push to make life easier for the homeless population, homeowners and business owners in Oregon are voicing their concerns about the growing homeless crisis and the impact it has on daily life.
According to the office of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, homelessness in the city increased by 50% from 2019 to 2022.
This bill has been torn apart by critics, calling it “out of touch with reality” and suggesting it will make Oregon’s cities more dangerous.
Opponents of this bill expressed concern over the rampant drug usage in the homeless population, while others have pointed out that residents already feel unsafe walking around in cities like Portland and Salem.
One critic of the proposed bill said, “We are barely hanging onto some semblance of public order in the current climate. How on earth do you expect this kind of dangerous rhetoric to push the needle forward? This is borderline lunacy. You don’t have to step a few blocks in any direction to see how bad things are on the streets of Portland, let alone harden laws in favor of people who clearly struggle with making any kind of thoughtful decisions on their own.”
Another critic, an 83-year-old Vietnam veteran named Armand Martens said he felt safer walking down the streets of Saigon than he does in Portland.