Oregon Bill Gives Homeless People The Right To Sue If They Feel “Harassed” Or Are Ordered To Leave

Haley Kennington

A new bill proposed by Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives would permit homeless people to sue state residents for harassing them or ordering them to leave.

The new bill called the Right To Rest Act seeks to decriminalize homeless encampments in public spaces and would give homeless Oregonians the right to sue for $1,000 per incident if “harassed”. The proposed legislation does not appear to address actual homelessness.

HB 3501 is sponsored by Rep. Farrah Chaichi. It defines “persons experiencing homelessness” as those without a fixed “nighttime residence,” as well as individuals who live in their cars, share housing with other people, live in motels, hotels and campgrounds.

The proposed bill says that homeless people should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in any property that belongs to them” regardless if that property is a public space.

It also adds that the homeless should be able to exercise their rights in public without being subject to harassment, arrest by law enforcement or citation by employees of local governments.

The legislation defines “harassment” as behavior towards a “person experiencing homelessness that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, tormenting or terrorizing of the person experiencing homelessness.”

It also considers an “aggrieved person” anyone who believes they have been “injured by an unlawful practice or discriminatory housing practice.” It also includes if they believe these situations are about to occur.

Any person or group of people who are “resistant to the rights” of homeless people laid out by the bill can be fined up to $50,000 for the first violation. Subsequent violations would result in a $100,000 fine.

According to Newsweek, the Oregon legislature has already approved $100 million in its upcoming budget for homeless services and housing.

However, earlier this year, lawmakers proposed legislation that would give the homeless and low-income earners $1,000 per month for expenses such as food, rent and childcare. The scheme would operate as a year-long trial.

HB 3501 has been heavily opposed. Hundreds have submitted written public testimony and shared how they have been forced out of public spaces by homeless people.

Most have said the bill doesn’t address homelessness at all, and in fact, incentivizes those who would take advantage of the system. Opponents of the bill have argued it would abuse public spaces.

They have also called for the focus to be shifted to providing mental health services and drug treatment centers, with rules put in place for proper sanitation in public areas.

“Our sidewalks, streets, parks, and all public spaces should be available and accessible for all residents to use,” one citizen writes in opposition to the bill. “Yesterday a man on TriMet sat next to my disabled teen who is on the spectrum, put his arm around my sons shoulder, and offered to sell him ‘drugs’. We are already afraid to use the parks, TriMet, and sidewalks with tents blocking the way.”

“This is the worst bill I’ve ever read and does nothing to address the issue of homelessness. Stop with the insanity and start coming up with solutions to help people avoid being on the street in the first place. Start dealing with the major causes of homelessness such as addiction and mental healthcare,” another opposed to the bill writes.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services 2022 Point-In-Time Count surveyed residents experiencing homelessness in Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County. The area saw homelessness increase by 30.2 percent during the pandemic. The number of people left completely without shelter grew 50 percent between 2019 and 2022.

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