People with disabilities sue over blocked Portland sidewalks

Sep 8, 2022, 3:41 AM | Updated: 6:08 pm
FILE - Tents line the sidewalk on SW Clay St in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 9, 2020. People with disabi...

FILE - Tents line the sidewalk on SW Clay St in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 9, 2020. People with disabilities in Portland have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, claiming the city has failed to keep sidewalks accessible by allowing homeless tents and encampments to block sidewalks. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People with disabilities in Portland, Oregon, have sued the city, saying they can’t navigate its sidewalks because of sprawling homeless encampments.

The federal class action lawsuit says the city has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing homeless people’s tents to block city sidewalks, making it difficult for people using wheelchairs, walkers or canes to use them.

“The entire class of persons with disabilities are regularly deprived of the benefits of services of the city of Portland,” said John DiLorenzo, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The plaintiffs include nine people with disabilities and a caretaker. Among the plaintiffs is Keith Martin, a 71-year-old Portland resident who has used a wheelchair since having a stroke three years ago.

“I couldn’t get to my breakfast in the morning because there was a tent covering the whole sidewalk,” Martin said. “I was forced onto the street and narrowly missed a streetcar that came around the corner.”

Oregon’s homelessness crisis has been fueled by a housing shortage, the coronavirus pandemic and high drug addiction rates. Federal data from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9% of teens and adults in Oregon had illicit drug use disorders in 2020. That year, the state also ranked last in access to drug addiction treatment, according to the survey.

The class action suit seeks to require the city to clear all sidewalks of tent encampments and debris, and to “construct, purchase, or otherwise provide for emergency shelters in which to house the unsheltered persons” who may be affected.

Such measures would make sidewalks accessible for people with disabilities in a safe manner while providing a safe place for unhoused people, DiLorenzo said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said the mayor is meeting with the city attorney before providing comment.

About 13% of Portlanders live with a disability, according to the lawsuit, including 6% with mobility impairments and 2.4% with visual impairments.

Plaintiff Steve Jackson, 47, is legally blind and uses a cane to walk. He said tents prevent him from navigating the sidewalk and accessing bus stops.

“Often there’s tents blocking the entire sidewalk, where I don’t see them because they weren’t there the day before, and I hit the tent and then people are mad at me and think I’m attacking them,” Jackson said during a news conference.

There were about 3,000 unsheltered people living in Multnomah County, home to Portland, during the most recent point-in-time count in January 2022, county figures show.

The Portland City Council declared a state of emergency on homelessness in 2015 and has extended it five times since then. The measure, now set to expire in 2025, reduces the bureaucratic hurdles surrounding the creation of homeless shelters.

Despite the city’s years-long emergency measure, the estimated number of people experiencing homelessness spiked 25% in the Portland area between 2020 and 2022, according to point-in-time counts reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year alone, Wheeler has issued four emergency declarations to address homelessness issues. Most recently in August, he expanded a previous declaration that prohibits camping along high-speed corridors such as highways to include key walking routes to K-12 schools.

The state has wrestled with a debate over the best way to reduce homelessness. Some business groups have called for more encampment sweeps and stricter enforcement of anti-camping ordinances, while others want more investment in social services and affordable housing.

Oregon lawmakers earlier this year approved a budget that includes $400 million to address homelessness and housing.


Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Eviation's "Alice", the world's first all-electric commuter airplane, takes off for its first fligh...
Associated Press

Prototype electric airplane takes first flight

A prototype, all-electric airplane took its first flight Tuesday morning in central Washington state.
12 hours ago
FILE - A group in military fatigues walks in front of Jackman Hall on the campus of Norwich Univers...
Associated Press

Student who sued military over HIV policy settles case

BOSTON (AP) — A student at a military college who sued top Pentagon officials after he was deemed unfit for service because he tested positive for HIV has settled his lawsuit and plans to pursue his dream of becoming an Army officer, his lawyers said Tuesday. “I am incredibly grateful to be back on track […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Woman critical, suspect dead after Indiana plant shooting

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — A woman is in critical condition Tuesday, a day after she was shot in the head outside a Subaru plant in northwest Indiana, police said. The suspected gunman was later found dead nearby. Officers who responded Monday afternoon a report of a shooting at Subaru of Indiana Automotive in Lafayette found […]
1 day ago
FILE - Bagged lunches await stapling before being distributed to students at the county's Tri-Plex ...
Associated Press

White House conference puts spotlight on hunger relief

For months, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas has had to waitlist families hoping to join a food pantry program, as the nonprofit and other charities have struggled to meet soaring demand amid rising food prices and the end of federal pandemic relief aid. The families who frequent the food bank, which is stocked like a […]
1 day ago
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at Cypress Creek Renewables solar field in Chapel Hill, N.C....
Associated Press

Yellen warns inaction on climate could cause economic crisis

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Tuesday of economic calamity if climate change is not addressed with immediate government intervention. Joined by local business owners and prominent Democrats in North Carolina, Yellen said the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters could create devastating short-term supply reductions of everyday goods that […]
1 day ago
President Joe Biden walks with Bob Parant, Medicare beneficiary with Type 1 diabetes, as they arriv...
Associated Press

Millions of Americans will save on Medicare fees next year

Washington (AP) — For the first time in a decade, Americans will pay less next year on monthly premiums for Medicare’s Part B plan, which covers routine doctors’ visits and other outpatient care. The rare 3% decrease in monthly premiums — a savings of $5.20 for most — comes after millions of Medicare beneficiaries endured […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
People with disabilities sue over blocked Portland sidewalks