The city of Portland is demanding that a class action lawsuit filed against the city last month by a group of Portlanders with disabilities over street camping involves 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 on September 12 that the lawsuit was intended to expand the circle of defendants.
“If your customers’ goal is to pursue a broader solution to homeless sidewalk camping, I would invite you to join your lawsuit by the other government agencies responsible for tackling homelessness in our community,” Taylor wrote to John DiLorenzo, one of Davis Wright Tremaine’s attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “As your lawsuit is currently being filed, I believe it fails to recognize the important role and responsibility played by these other government agencies alongside the city in resolving this complex issue.”
It addresses a lawsuit against the city filed last month by 10 Portlanders with disabilities who argue that the city does not maintain handicap access under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit demands that a judge order the city to sweep all tents off the sidewalks and provide alternative housing for its residents.
Taylor’s email indicates that the city may be preparing for a worst-case scenario: a judge ruling that the defendant must build the capacity to house every homeless Portlander.
If the lawsuit names other defendants also responsible for housing across Portland, the city could bear less of the financial burden.
“I encourage you to consider whether the broad and enduring level of exoneration sought by plaintiffs in your case can be practically achieved,” Taylor wrote to DiLorenzo, “unless these other government agencies are also asked to share responsibility.” , ‘to construct, purchase or otherwise provide emergency shelters to house the vulnerable persons affected by the court’s ruling.’”
DiLorenzo shared Taylor’s email with local reporters Wednesday, adding that on Tuesday he issued subpoenas to the county and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (a joint city-county office) to learn one thing: whether tents and tarpaulins the Joint offices handed out in 2021 are some of the same tents and tarps the city is now being sued over.
County budget documents cited by DiLorenzo show that in 2021, the Joint Office distributed 6,550 tents and 27,000 tarps from COVID-19 care centers around the county.
DiLorenzo says he has not yet made a decision to add additional defendants to the lawsuit, but told Taylor in an email that he would consider doing so.
“I strongly suspect that the county handed out new tents just to have them swept out of town,” DiLorenzo wrote.