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‘Make it clear for us’: Portland college student among group with disabilities suing city over tents on sidewalks

The 10 plaintiffs argue the city is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A group of people with mobility disabilities is suing the city of Portland over homeless camps and debris blocking city sidewalks.

The lawsuit argues that the city is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide equal access to sidewalks. 

To many, commuting to and from work is an afterthought. But for some people with disabilities, like 22-year-old Lorien Welchoff, getting around on Portland’s sidewalks is a full-time job.

“I want the city to fix Portland. Get the homeless people off the sidewalks, make it clear for us,” she said at a press conference Wednesday morning. 

Welchoff is a student at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in the heart of Old Town.

“Things have been kind of up and down. A lot homeless tents, other things blocking the way, also human debris,” she said.

RELATED: Portland mayor enacts emergency camping ban along school routes

Tents on Northwest Hoyt and Broadway took up the entire sidewalk outside her school on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m tired of taking extra-long routes just to get anywhere,” she said.

She made a deal with her professors allowing her to be 15 minutes late to class so she has enough time to get around the tents. “Very frustrating and very buggy. I’m always trying to be very aware of my surroundings.”

She along with nine other people filed a lawsuit against the city this week.

“Often there’s tents blocking the entire sidewalk where I don't see them, because they weren't there the day before,” said plaintiff Steve Jackson. “And then I hit the tent and people are mad at me and they might think I’m attacking them, but really I don’t see them.”

“Not only do I have to maneuver and figure out how to get from point A to point B, because the tents shift — everyday its different. They go from one spot to another spot, and I have to go out in the street a lot to get around them,” added plaintiff Barbara Jacobsen.

RELATED: ‘I’m keeping my tent here’: Homeless tent stands in protest of the city’s new ban on camping near schools

“I have never in all my time here been as afraid as I am right now to go outside, day or night,” added Keith Martin, another plaintiff and local business owner. 

The plaintiffs are asking the federal court for three things: 

  1.  A declaration that the City is in violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act
  2.  A mandatory injunction requiring the City to remove tent encampments and debris from all City sidewalks
  3. A mandatory injunction requiring the City to construct, purchase or otherwise make available sufficient shelter space for those persons who are displaced from the sidewalks

“The main case is all about court orders requiring the city to do its job and fulfill its federal obligations,” explained one attorney involved with the case.

There have been similar lawsuits filed in other West Coast cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but none have gone to trial. 

KGW asked the city for comment and was told Mayor Ted Wheeler is meeting with the city attorney and colleagues before responding to this lawsuit.

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