The Oregon “Right to Rest Act” will be introduced in the Legislature this week, according to the office of Sen. Chip Shields, a Democrat from Portland who is sponsoring the bill. The Right to Rest Act, which is also sometimes referred to as a “Homeless Bill of Rights” by some supporters, would decriminalize the everyday and necessary acts of sleeping, sitting, standing, eating or sharing food, according to Paul Boden of WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which is pushing for bills in Oregon, California and Colorado.
Boden says WRAP did about 1,400 outreaches to people on the street and discovered, “We are all getting criminalized for this chump-change shit — sitting, sleeping, laying down, eating. We all do these things,” he points outs. “How can it be illegal for some of us when we do it?”
He says the legislation would combat local laws in cities and counties that create modern “sundown towns” — racist laws that used to force people of color to leave town at sunset. He says there is an “uptick in these laws being created, passed and enforced” and points to Eugene’s enforcement of a downtown sidewalk commerce permit program, which homeless advocates say is being used more to disperse the unhoused rather than promote commerce.
“That pattern is going on everywhere,” Boden says.
Ken Neubeck, a member of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission, recently traveled to Salem as a private citizen to lobby for the Right to Rest Act. He says, “What this bill would do, as I see it, is take criminalization and law enforcement off the table as a tool to address homelessness and force to address actual reasons people are homeless.”
Neubeck says, “It is three times more expensive to use a law enforcement approach than actually provide a person with an apartment and a case manager.”
He says, “Criminalization makes it harder for people to get jobs and achieve fair housing” because unhoused people trying to get back on their feet are followed by a criminal record for merely trying to sleep. “There has to be better way to treat the homeless than turn them into villains.”
According to Neubeck, Eugene has “good models here for things that could happen” such as car camping, rest stops, etc. They are “drops in the bucket — but when you get enough drops in the bucket, ultimately the bucket starts to fill.”
Boden says if passed the Right to Rest Act would ensure that “the act of sitting, standing, sleeping, sharing or eating food or sleeping in a legally parked vehicle can no longer be criminalized so long as it’s non-malicious.” He adds, “If you are laying on the sidewalk saying ‘Go to hell,’ the cops can cite you.”
The Right to Rest Act is “model legislation,” a term more commonly associated with the right-wing ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. But Boden says, “If ALEC can do it, we can sure as hell do it.”
WRAP is a coalition of groups working “to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our communities.”
Sen. Shields was unavailable for comment before press time but issued a statement saying that the bill is “about making sure everyone is treated equally and humanely under the law.”