PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In a lawsuit claiming the city of Portland is failing to abide by federal disability rights laws, the attorney behind the lawsuit now says Multnomah County is paying millions for supplies camping covering some sidewalks, only for the city to sweep them.
In September, KOIN 6 News reported on the class action suit that claims the city is failing to remove homeless camp debris from sidewalks – which they say prevents people with disabilities from being able to safely use their wheelchair or their cane for the blind.
“Our plaintiffs can’t even buy a tube of toothpaste, without having to mix in traffic with their wheelchairs to get around the camps,” said John DiLorenzo, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
In June, KOIN 6 News also uncovered how the county was spending millions of dollars in COVID relief funds on camping supplies. At the time, County Chair Deborah Kafoury defended the spending, saying it was saving lives.
The law firm representing the plaintiffs has now reportedly found budget documents that show Multnomah County purchased and distributed tens of thousands of tarps, tents and sleeping bags through its nonprofit partners in 2021 .
The firm said it’s likely the same tents that ended up on sidewalks blocking their disabled wheelchair-bound complainants.
“Thus, it seems to us that the municipality provides the tents, which blocked the sidewalks, which the city then sweeps away. And to me, that’s like trying to climb the escalator down. You’re not going anywhere and you’re exhausted. At the end of the day. There is no compelling policy between these two governments,” DiLorenzo said. “It seems like an incredible waste of resources.”
Now attorneys have issued subpoenas, forcing Multnomah County to produce all documents showing where they bought the tents, how much they paid, how they distributed them and whether they properly notified their partners for purpose. nonprofits that their recipients should not be pitching tents on sidewalks, which block access for people with disabilities.
The lawsuit ultimately asks for two things: that the city clear all sidewalks of encampments and obstructions, making sure they don’t come back; and to provide the homeless with safe shelter.
“Our suggestion is that the city should save the $40 million a year it wastes on the joint office and use it to provide temporary shelter for people, so they have a place to go and don’t have to live on sidewalks exposed to the elements,” DiLorenzo said.
KOIN 6 News has reached out to the City Attorney’s Office, Multnomah County and the Joint Office of Homeless Services for comment.
“The Joint Office for Homeless Services has spent half of its budget this year on expanding and strengthening its shelter system, even as it establishes a rapid-response housing system that has helped 4,560 people get out of homelessness and into their own homes last year.
At the same time, the Homeless Services Network and the Joint Office also continued to provide security services on the streets,” said Denis Thériault, Deputy Director of Communications.
“Regarding recent claims and legal filings, the county cannot comment due to potential litigation.”