To preface this story we want to make sure you all have access to our series on the growing problem of the unhoused population in our fair city. They are as follows:
- Hillsboro Homeless Crisis Out In The Open at Camp Hope
- Washington County Weighs In On Unhoused Population
Today we visited the site along Dairy Creek at the West edge of Hillsboro where some 50 unhoused Hillsboro residents are camping on a private parcel of land. The land is a vacant acreage that has been a regular spot for homeless camping. During our series we interviewed several people living at the camp and were told some have stayed there for years. Others are here from out of state, and some from Portland too.
In Part 2 of our story, we introduced you to some of the people living there. Many of them stated that they were living at Dairy Creek Park and other places around the city before being vacated off those sites. Several suggested that they were told to go to the site they are currently at. We want to make it clear that at both site visits in December we were told by residents that they had been told to leave. All stated that notices were coming in January. We sourced those claims to the City of Hillsboro and staff was clear that they had a complaint several months old filed by the owner, who is now deceased, to cite the campers with trespass and have them removed. This process dates back to early 2020 according to Simone Brooks, Assistant City Manager.
Hillsboro Police Officers went to the site according to sources on Jan 3rd and 4th and on other occasions to ask peole to leave. A few people moved on while others have stayed. That includes those citing the fact this is their last stand and they have nowhere to go.
The City Has To Act On A Trespass Complaint
This situation is complex but the City has no choice. Acting on the formal request of the City Managers office, the Hillsboro Police Department has delivered official legal notices around the camp. According to two campers we spoke to they were handed this document which we were allowed to screenshot.
We looked the laws up. They are as follows:
While we have not consulted with a lawyer this statute clearly does not apply as this is land is not a hotel. Perhaps it applies – but unlikely.
This is a vacant private land parcel these campers are on. None of these seem to apply but again we are merely reporting what has been happening. Tomorrow at Noon seems to be it for the campers. Today, Danny, the camper we have mentioned in the previous articles, is awaiting the authorities with fears all of his personal items will be taken and he will go to jail. We could do little to console him. He plans to ask if he can stay or for input on where he can go. Sadly the answer right now is probably nowhere. It is unlikely he wll be arrested but he certainly could be cited.
The Officers Do Not Deserve This-
Our HPD officers have to execute this trespass order being issued by the City. They are ordered to do it on behalf of the City Manager’s office who is executing for the land owners estate. The officers told me personally they do not want to do it and have not forcibly removed anyone in the past. No beds or shelters await these campers and Countywide there are almost 600 people on a waiting list to get into a shelter bed.
Humanity is going to meet legal requirements tomorrow based on this latest notice. What do we do and what are we doing? Propoerty rights certainly are important and laws must be enforced. Last year Mayor Steve Callway made news when he and City staff refused to comply with Federal subpoenas issued by ICE. Callaway said it was a matter of principle and a morall issue in that case. This seems to be a very similar situation doesn’t it? There are just so many layers to this but this camp being cleared seems to be a flash point of sorts on the issues of homelessnes here.
There are no words to express what the people now living on that land must be feeling and what our officers have to deal with. We simply must do better by having options so that we do not end up in this place again. It is an untenable position.
The Supreme Court Ruled in Martin VS Boise- So where does Hillsboro stand?
Here is something you all need to know. In late 2019 the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the City of Boise, Idaho to have the High Court throw out 9th Circuit Courts ruling against them in the now landmark case, Martin VS Boise. Here is what happened.
The the 9th Circuit held that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.” Following that ruling, the city of Boise petitioned the entire 9th Circuit to rehear the case (“en banc”), which was rejected in April. Boise then asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and today the Court rejected that request, thereby affirming that within the 9th Circuit, “the Eighth Amendment preclude[s] the enforcement of a statute prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to alternative shelter. https://nlchp.org/supreme-court-martin-v-boise/#:~:text=The%20Martin%20v.,of%20adequate%20housing%20or%20shelter.
Mr Martin was a man with the inability to walk very far and he was resting or sitting in the City of Boise and was cited and taken to trial. Upon loosing his trial he and 8 other people took up the case against the City and won the right to sit, stand, sleep on any public property. His attorney responded to the ruling:
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has let the 9th Circuit’s holding stand that the Constitution ‘prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,’” said Michael Bern, lead pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit. “As the Department of Justice recognized earlier in this case, ‘[c]riminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness.’ With today’s decision, we hope that cities can redirect their efforts to identifying meaningful and constitutional solutions to the problem of homelessness.”
San Rafael, California and many other cities are now struggling with the fall out of this decision. Portland may be home to thousands of homeless people but what people do not understand is that the City has limited ability to punish the homeless because they are not breaking any laws by sitting, standing, or sleeping in public places. It is their constitutional right to do so. Grants Pass was the first city to have to defend itself in court after the tough tactics they employed became the subject of a lawsuit. They made it illegal to sleep in city and public property and they quickly lost. Their homeless population of almost 600 are now protected by the Martin case.
The Right To Sleep…Not Camp
McMinnville, Oregon is a town very much like Hillsboro. They have had two years of intense battles over Homeless camps and issues surrounding them. The problem became so great that City Council meetings have been filled with citizens barking and hissing at Councilors. A wide variety of attempts have been made to clear tents and camps from the historic downtown area and other highly trafficked places. But nothing seemed to be working – that led to a new law which may be the beginning of a guide for cities like Hillsboro.
The organization and media group StreetRoots.org covered the McMinnville laws:
Under the law, people can sleep on public property, but they have to remove themselves and any camping paraphernalia from the site between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. The law also bans overnight camping in residential neighborhoods, parks, parking lots and parking structures and in the urban renewal district in downtown McMinnville. Violators risk going to jail and having their property confiscated.
The Martin case does not give the homeless the right to camp– it gives them the right to sleep. It is absurd to imagine that people sleeping in public places at night will not camp. The way the McMinnville law is working is to tell the homeless where they can not be but it really does not tell them where they can be. Also they have to wake up by 6:30 AM and head off into the City like the walking dead all day. That will go on all day long until 9:30 at night where they can once again sleep. They call these laws Dusk to Dawn laws.
It appears that a good posisbility for Hillsboro will be to balance the rights of the housed and the unhoused. Maybe the City, which owns dozens of properties, can select some sites that can be managed as campgrounds and run by non-profits or churches. Maybe a shelter or two can help. Clearly passing laws and ordinances here is needed and we have been told the disussions are hot and heavy to do so.
Whatever happens at McKay/Camp Hope it is all a part of the process of Hillsboro moving past its small town roots and becoming a big town- hell a City. And big City problems are here and must be dealt with. This is clearly the most visible one right now.
In our early January City wide poll the citizens of Hillsboro voted on what matters to them most for 2021 – here are the results-