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US District Court judge sides with Medford in homelessness case

In September 2020, unsheltered people set up dozens of tents in Hawthorne Park in Medford as a form of protest against "clean sweeps" by city police.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
In September 2020, unsheltered people set up dozens of tents in Hawthorne Park in Medford as a form of protest against "clean sweeps" by city police.

Medford was facing a lawsuit filed in 2021 on behalf of six homeless residents, who claimed their rights had been violated by the city’s laws that restrict where and how people can camp on public property.

The plaintiffs argued that despite Medford’s new efforts to combat homelessness, the city still has a web of ordinances and practices that criminalize the existence of unsheltered people.

They sought an injunction preventing the city from enforcing its camping and exclusion ordinances, citing the cruel and unusual punishment clause under the Eighth Amendment, as well as a number of clauses under the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs said that current access to shelter is not adequate, and the rules around those shelters, such as a curfews, means it’s difficult for many people to use them.

The final order in that case was issued from Judge Ann Aiken on Thursday. In it, she upheld the findings presented in January by Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke.

"Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to any of their claims," wrote Clarke.

Clarke is the same judge who ruled against the City of Grants Pass in a similar lawsuit in 2020. That ruling inspired a state law to regulate public camping, which the City of Medford used to craft the ordinances in this case.

The Grants Pass case is expected to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.

"The City of Medford is pleased with the United States District Court’s ruling that the prohibited camping ordinance meets all Constitutional standards that were challenged in this case," said city Communications Manager Kristina Wilson in a statement on Monday. "This recent ruling supports the City’s comprehensive set of regulations which seeks to preserve the usability of public spaces while also respecting the Eighth Amendment rights of unhoused individuals. Additionally, the City appreciates the Court’s recognition that the City’s multi-faceted approach to the homelessness crisis meets applicable constitutional standards."

In his January recommendation, Clarke said that unlike Grants Pass, Medford’s laws are constitutional, and the city has shown its commitment to assisting its unhoused population.

"The number of resolutions recently adopted by the City shows a commitment to the issue by not only the City, but members of the community who have offered their input," wrote Clarke. "The Court finds little utility in rebuking those efforts, particularly where many of the seeds have been recently planted and require time and dedication before their adequacy can be measured."
Copyright 2024 Jefferson Public Radio.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast. When not out in the field, Roman enjoys travelling and cross-stitching.