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Portland Residents With Disabilities Sue Over City’s Blocked Sidewalks

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Individuals with disabilities in Portland, Oregon, have sued the town, saying they’ll’t navigate its sidewalks due to sprawling homeless encampments.

The federal class motion lawsuit says the town has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing homeless people’s tents to dam city sidewalks, making it difficult for people using wheelchairs, walkers or canes to make use of them.

“The complete class of individuals with disabilities are repeatedly deprived of the advantages of services of the town of Portland,” said John DiLorenzo, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The plaintiffs include nine individuals with disabilities and a caretaker. Among the many plaintiffs is Keith Martin, a 71-year-old a Portland resident who has used a wheelchair since having a stroke three years ago.

“I couldn’t get to my breakfast within the morning because there was a tent covering the entire sidewalk,” Martin said. “I used to be forced onto the road and narrowly missed a streetcar that got here across the corner.”

Oregon’s homelessness crisis has been fueled by a housing shortage, the coronavirus pandemic and high drug addiction rates. Federal data from the newest National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9% of teens and adults in Oregon had illicit drug use disorders in 2020. That yr, the state also ranked last in access to drug addiction treatment, in line with the survey.

The category motion suit seeks to require the town to clear all sidewalks of tent encampments and debris, and to “construct, purchase, or otherwise provide for emergency shelters during which to accommodate the unsheltered individuals” who could also be affected.

Such measures would make sidewalks accessible for individuals with disabilities in a protected manner while providing a protected place for unhoused people, DiLorenzo said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said the mayor is meeting with the town attorney before providing comment.

About 13% of Portlanders live with a disability, in line with the lawsuit, including 6% with mobility impairments and a couple of.4% with visual impairments.

Plaintiff Steve Jackson, 47, is legally blind and uses a cane to walk. He said tents prevent him from navigating the sidewalk and accessing bus stops.

“Often there’s tents blocking all the sidewalk, where I don’t see them because they weren’t there the day before, and I hit the tent after which individuals are mad at me and think I’m attacking them,” Jackson said during a news conference.

There have been about 3,000 unsheltered people living in Multnomah County, home to Portland, in the course of the most up-to-date point-in-time count in January 2022, county figures show.

The Portland City Council declared a state of emergency on homelessness in 2015 and has prolonged it five times since then. The measure, now set to run out in 2025, reduces the bureaucratic hurdles surrounding the creation of homeless shelters.

Despite the town’s years-long emergency measure, the estimated number of individuals experiencing homelessness spiked 25% within the Portland area between 2020 and 2022, in line with point-in-time counts reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This yr alone, Wheeler has issued 4 emergency declarations to handle homelessness issues. Most recently in August, he expanded a previous declaration that prohibits camping along high-speed corridors resembling highways to incorporate key walking routes to K-12 schools.

The state has wrestled with a debate over the very best method to reduce homelessness. Some business groups have called for more encampment sweeps and stricter enforcement of anti-camping ordinances, while others want more investment in social services and reasonably priced housing.

Oregon lawmakers earlier this yr approved a budget that features $400 million to handle homelessness and housing.

Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ClaireARush.

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