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Medford argues against class-action status in homeless suit

City claims that controversial anti-camping ordinance has been enforced three times in three months

The city of Medford is attempting to prevent a proposed lawsuit surrounding an alleged “web of ordinances” that criminalize homelessness from reaching class-action status.

The city claims that petitioners Robert Bessy, Greg Killingsworth, Amber McNab and Andre Bilodeau — who are all homeless — lack “common issues of law or fact” necessary for the class action status sought by Medford defense lawyer Justin Rosas and other pro bono Lawyers for Justice.

Rosas’ lawsuit filed May 18 in U.S. District Court in Medford — and announced in an Alba Park press conference in April — seeks to have two Medford municipal codes related to the downtown exclusion zone and an ordinance that prohibits tent camping in certain circumstances be declared unconstitutional by the federal court.

The city’s 27-page response filed July 15 makes numerous defenses in an effort to object to the proposed class action, and seeks dismissal.

The city admitted that Bessy, whose name is spelled “Bessey” in Medford Municipal Court and Jackson County Circuit Court records, was excluded from downtown for theft of services after using an electrical box to charge a phone near the Medford library. However, the city claims that the exclusion ordinance makes exceptions, including going to work, medical appointments, court hearings, religious services or to appeal an exclusion order.

Further, the city states that Bessy never appealed his exclusion and never sought any variance through Medford Municipal Court.

Bilodeau and McNab, whose name is spelled "MacNab“ in city and court records, have not been excluded from downtown in the past two years. Any exclusions that occurred prior are beyond the statute of limitations, the city claimed.

Killingsworth was excluded for 90 days from downtown in 2020 for bicycle theft.

The city claims that the exclusion ordinance was previously litigated in Jackson County Circuit Court in summer 2018, when Judge Benjamin Bloom ruled that, “The ordinance does not infringe upon the right to free speech, right to travel or the right of assembly.”

The city claims that the Greenway camping ordinance enacted in April by Medford City Council “is not a city-wide prohibition on sleeping outside and does not criminalize the status of homelessness.”

Between April 2 and July 15, the ordinance had resulted in only “three enforcement actions,” and that police have otherwise obtained “voluntary compliance” with the camping ordinance, which prohibits camping along the Bear Creek Greenway during fire season.

Citing two dozen city of Medford efforts to address homelessness, the city disputes Rosas’ argument that the city is “trying to run homeless people out of sight, out of view, out of town or into the jail."

Those efforts include Hope Village, a tiny house village leased on city-owned property for $1 per year, “facilitating” the Urban Campground’s creation by working with Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden to secure $1 million in funding, providing an $87,000 grant to facilitate Rogue Retreat’s creation of the Kelly Shelter in downtown Medford in 2019, adding city codes that authorize severe event shelters, creating Medford police’s homeless outreach-focused Livability Team, and adding to the city’s Community Services and Development Commission two voting members with “lived experience” of homelessness.

The city’s response also cites multiple six-figure allocations for transitional housing projects, including $250,000 to Columbia Care Services, $250,000 to Youth 71Five Ministries, $150,000 to Hearts with a Mission and $100,000 to Rogue Valley Transportation District toward a proposed vandalism resistant “Indestructible Loo.”

The response touches on city efforts to bring a program similar to Lane County’s CAHOOTS. Although it hasn’t found a community partner in Medford that “currently has the facilities, ability and willingness to perform identical services” as those demonstrated by White Bird Clinic in Eugene, it states it’s participating in multi-partner efforts about how to create a similar program within Jackson County.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.