Federal Injunction regarding Anti-Camping Ordinance

The City of Grants Pass is actively engaged in finding solutions for the unhoused, working with partnering agencies, and enforcing illegal activities in public spaces.

With this document, we want to take the opportunity to provide some information that explains the laws and parameters the city must operate under when managing resting in public spaces. This document is focused on the legal opportunities and restrictions we are facing when addressing homelessness in public spaces and is not necessarily a community-based response, which is better addressed by the multiple agencies associated with providing services to the unhoused.  

How can cities manage their public spaces in a way that respects all community members, while still complying with federal and state law?

When it comes to regulating city public spaces, The City has three areas of the law we need to consider: federal law, state law, and local law – all three work together – and all three must work together to find solutions to the problems we are addressing. 

  1. Federal Law
  2. State Law
  3. Local Law

Federal Law: Allows for people to rest in public spaces. Allows for people to take necessary minimal measures to keep warm and dry. 

Robinson vs. State of California: California made it a crime to be “addicted to narcotics”, not just to possess or sell them. The court found that being “addicted to narcotics” is an illness, one that could occur voluntarily, involuntarily, and accidently. The fact that you could punish someone for something they could not control would be cruel and unusual punishment. The court did find you can punish behavior and actions, just not the status of a person.

Martin vs. Boise: 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in response to a 2009 lawsuit by six homeless plaintiffs against the city of Boise, Idaho, regarding the city’s anti-camping ordinance. The ruling held that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population. It did not necessarily mean a city cannot enforce any restrictions on camping in public spaces. There are four things that municipal attorneys feel confident in saying regarding Martin: 

  1. Cities cannot criminally punish a person who is experiencing homelessness from sitting, sleeping, or lying on public property when that person has no place else to go.
  2. Cities are not required to build or provide shelters for persons experiencing homelessness.
  3. Cities can continue to impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions – even on people who are homeless, have a place to find shelter, and don’t wish to use that shelter.
  4. Limitation to city only – indicates regional cooperative not permitted. For Cities to get credit for services, they must be in the jurisdiction of the municipality. 

Blake vs. Grants Pass (now known as Johnson v. Grants Pass): On September 28, 2022, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Johnson v. Grants Pass, a class action matter addressing public camping. The court upheld the U.S. District Court’s prior ruling that persons experiencing homelessness are entitled to take necessary minimal measures to keep themselves warm and dry while sleeping outside. The Ninth Circuit opined that cities violate the Eighth Amendment if they punish a person for the mere act of sleeping outside, or for sleeping in their vehicles at night when there is no other place in the city for them to go. 

As a result of this ruling, this decision expands the application of Martin v. Boise —the pivotal case impacting cities’ ability to regulate public camping. The court noted that the decision in this case is narrow and that “it is ‘unconstitutional to [punish] simply sleeping somewhere in public if one has nowhere else to do so.’” It goes on to note that class actions in these types of cases are permissible. This opinion, in most respects, affirmed aspects of the prior rulings in Martin and Johnson. However, it failed to provide clarification on several issues, such as what constitutes “necessary minimal measures” to keep warm and dry. The City has requested rehearing at the Ninth Circuit Court, another step in the lawsuit process before it may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. 

We hope this has provided information regarding the City’s ability to provide Time, Place and Manner regulations regarding resting in public spaces. The injunction will continue to be in place until the Federal Courts have provided final ruling in the Johnson vs. Grants Pass.

Feel free to contact Police Chief Hensman or City Manager Cubic if you have any questions or concerns regarding our public services. 541-450-6000

For those wishing to read the specific documents related to resting in public, or to share opinions with those who sponsored various house bills, links are provided below.


Blake vs Grants Pass: Read the court ruling

HB 3115: Requires a city to provide 72-hour notice for campsite removal in public spaces. Sponsored by Representative KOTEK; Representatives DEXTER, MARSH, MCLAIN, POWER, REYNOLDS, WILDE, Senators DEMBROW, MANNING JR, RILEY

Representative Maxine Dexter, Democrat - District 33 – Portland, 503-986-1433, Rep.MaxineDexter@oregonlegislature.gov
Representative Pam Marsh, Democrat - District 5 - Southern Jackson County, 503-986-1405, Rep.PamMarsh@oregonlegislature.gov
Representative Susan McLain, Democrat - District 29 – Hillsboro, 503-986-1429, Rep.SusanMcLain@oregonlegislature.gov
Representative - Lisa Reynolds, Democrat - District 34 - Northeast Washington County, 503-986-1434, Rep.LisaReynolds@oregonlegislature.gov
Senator Michael Dembrow, Democrat - District 23 – Portland; 503-986-1723, Sen.MichaelDembrow@oregonlegislature.gov
Senator James I. Manning Jr., Democrat - District 7 - North Eugene, West Eugene, Veneta; (503) 986-1707, sen.jamesmanning@oregonlegislature.gov
Governor Tina Kotek, Share your opinion; 503-378-4582, Reception: 503-378-3111, Constituent Services: 503-378-4582

HB 3124Provides that local law regulating sitting, lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outdoors on public property that is open to public must be objectively reasonable as to time, place and manner with regards to persons experiencing homelessness. Sponsored by Representative LIVELY; Representatives POWER, WILDE, Senator GORSEK

Representative John Lively, Democrat - District 7 – Springfield; 503-986-1407, Rep.JohnLively@oregonlegislature.gov
Senator Chris Gorsek, Democrat - District 25 – Gresham; 971-231-4466, Sen.ChrisGorsek@oregonlegislature.gov