Group files lawsuit against ODOT over sweep of homeless camp

Group files lawsuit against ODOT over sweep of homeless camp »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Neighbors in Southeast Portland were tired of the problems a nearby homeless camp on Oregon Department of Transportation land was causing and demanded they were cleared out. That’s what ODOT did.

Now, some of those homeless people are suing, claiming ODOT didn’t follow its own rules.

Tammi Carr, Brian Shipley, Ryan Warfield, Douglas Lohr and Melody Perdew are named as plaintiffs in the Federal lawsuit their attorney, Monica Goracke, filed in federal court on Monday. The suit is a class action complaint, so it covers other homeless people who have also lived at the camp.

The court documents state that Carr, Shipley, Warfield, Lohr, and Perdew were all living at a homeless camp underneath I-205 at Southeast 92nd and Southeast Flavel Street on Oct. 3, 2013. Portland Police came in and gave them 15 minutes to gather their belongings and leave, with no notice.

"The rules that are written down in the law require 10-days notice. What ODOT has done is reinterpret their rules and I don't think their interpretation follows either the spirit or the letter of the rules,” Goracke said.

Some of the plaintiff’s said they watched ODOT employees and a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office work crew destroy several campsites. 

Court documents say, “Without having amended its new rules, ODOT now insists that it may remove camps with little or no notice as long as police are present at a sweep to enforce trespass laws.”

The plaintiff’s said they were not notified by anyone about the sweep, nor did they see any notices posted in or near the camp, that the sweep would happen. The lawsuit alleges that this violates a 2011 law where ODOT agreed to give homeless camp residents 10-19 day notices before a sweep would happen.

The sweep on Oct. 3rd is the second sweep of the Johnson Creek camp since May. ODOT posted notices to notify residents before the May sweep. ODOT Spokesman Don Hamilton said ODOT also posted notices at the end of September for the Oct. 3rd sweep. 

ODOT enforced the trespassing ordinance on Oct. 3rd, calling it an emergency exception. Hamilton said, at the time, ODOT was facing environmental fines for that part of Johnson Creek. A summary of an environmental assessment shows the creek had poor water quality and animal habitats were threatened due to garbage, urine, and human fecal matter. Earlier this year, KATU cameras caught several homeless people using the area as a toilet.

“I think that, I think that ODOT is right to have concerns about the environment. I don't think the issue is as dire as they portray it," said Goracke.

Hamilton said if ODOT had not cleaned up the camp that day, the environmental concerns would have gotten worse. He said what ODOT did is no different than a property owner being forced by city ordinance to clean up his or her own property.

Bill Keeney lives near the camp site.

"We have rights to walk in our neighborhood without being harassed, asked for money, or anything,” said Keeney.

He said he’s watched the homeless camp grow, ODOT pass out 10-day notices to campers, make the campers move, only to have them return. He thinks the lawsuit is ridiculous.

“Oh Well, they shouldn’t have been there, should they?”

Goracke said her clients believe ODOT has a right to clear its land, but they want ODOT to follow its own rules and give notice about the sweeps.

Keeney said he wants to live in a clean neighborhood he can be proud of.

“This is my neighborhood. I’ve been here for 64 years,” he said.

The lawsuit also names Multnomah County and Sheriff Daniel Staton as defendants in addition to ODOT. That’s because of the jail work crew that was at the camp the day of the sweep.

Spokesmen for ODOT, Multnomah County, and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s department said they haven’t seen the lawsuit yet, but can’t comment on court issues. 

Goracke said she has 60 days to serve them; she’s working on making that happen.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to force ODOT to follow its own rules. They’re also asking for compensation to cover damages to their personal property involved in the Oct. 3rd sweep.