Portland city prosecutors seek other government agencies to be named in class action lawsuit filed for sidewalk tent camping

The City of Portland is asking that a class action lawsuit filed last month against the city by a group of disabled Portlanders for street tent camping include three other parties in the lawsuit: Multnomah County, Metro and the State of Oregon.

Portland City Attorney Robert Taylor wrote to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys Sept. 12 that the trial is expected to broaden the scope of defendants.

“If your clients’ goals are to seek a broader solution to homeless camping on sidewalks, I invite you to consider joining your legal action with the other government entities tasked with addressing homelessness in our community. “Taylor wrote to John DiLorenzo, one of Davis Wright Tremaine’s attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “As your lawsuit currently stands, I believe it fails to recognize the significant role and responsibility played by these other government entities, in addition to the City, in addressing this complex issue.”

This is a lawsuit filed against the city last month by 10 Portlanders with disabilities who allege the city is not enforcing disability access under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit asks that a judge order the city to sweep all tents from the sidewalks and provide their occupants with alternate shelter.

It appears from Taylor’s email that the city may be preparing for the worst-case scenario: that a judge decides that the defendant must build the housing capacity to accommodate every homeless Portlander.

If the lawsuit names other defendants also responsible for accommodations across Portland, the city could shoulder less of a monetary burden.

“I encourage you to consider whether the broad and enduring scope of the remedies sought by plaintiffs in your case,” Taylor wrote to DiLorenzo, “can be practically achieved if these other government entities are not also invited to share responsibility for ‘build, purchase or otherwise provide emergency shelters in which to house homeless people affected by the Court’s judgment.

DiLorenzo provided Taylor’s email to local reporters on Wednesday, adding that on Tuesday he issued subpoenas to the county and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (an office shared between the city and county) in The goal of learning one thing: if tents and tarps the Joint Offices handed over in 2021 are some of the same tents and tarps the city is currently being sued for.

County budget documents cited by DiLorenzo show the Joint Office distributed 6,550 tents and 27,000 tarps countywide in 2021 from COVID-19 supply centers.

DiLorenzo says he hasn’t made a decision yet to add other defendants to the trial, but told Taylor in an email he would consider it.

“I strongly suspect that the county distributed new tents only for the city to sweep them away,” DiLorenzo wrote.

Ashley C. Reynolds