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Nonprofit suing city of Portland over property disposal during homeless sweeps

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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — The same day the city of Portland promised to start cracking down on clearing more homeless camps, a class action lawsuit on behalf of campers was filed in Multnomah County court.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center is representing four people experiencing homelessness and is suing the city to hold it accountable to state law.

The crux of the lawsuit centers on the belongings, tents and other items both visible and hidden inside camps. It claims that city work crews, and contracted companies brought in to sweep camps clean aren’t properly collecting property left behind and instead are throwing belongings away.

“We have (a) client who was trying to find work and the city took her work clothes and her laptop she was using to try to find work,” said Juan Chavez, the director of the Civil Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center.

According to state law, items that are clearly not garbage or unsanitary must be sorted and held by the city for 30 days for campers to pick up.

“Fundamentally, the city has had these obligations to inventory property that is taken, not destroy it if it’s still usable to the person and this has been a long-standing problem, “ Chavez said.

But it comes as many Portlanders grow frustrated with how camps – and garbage and debris – have swelled during the last year of the city’s largely hand-off approach to cleanups during the pandemic.

The latest city Weekly Camp Site Report show nearly 1,600 complaints of various camps.

It’s something that Chavez said he recognizes and understands the frustration, but he argues that camp sweeps don’t really solve anything.

“Just because you evict someone from one site, doesn’t mean they’re going to disappear,” Chavez said. “You’re being sold a false bill of goods if you’re being told that sweeping them and moving them from their current living situation is a permanent fix to this.”

FOX 12 reached to the city of Portland regarding the lawsuit but a spokesman said no comments will be made during pending litigation.

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