Oppose Medford's Inhumane "Prohibited Camping" Ordinance!

Medford City Council and Mayor Randy Sparacino

Medford, Oregon wants to make it illegal for people to sleep in a tent, even during the winter. This is an inhumane response to poverty and houselessness.

Under this new law, unhoused people could spend up to 30 days in jail for simply sleeping in a tent, or lying down in public.* Such criminalization doesn't address the root causes of poverty — it will make issues worse rather than better.

This petition asks the Medford City Council to reject proposed changes to its "Prohibited Camping" ordinance.

The National Homelessness Law Center has already advised Medford that its proposed ordinance would make the City vulnerable to lawsuits, but City Deputy Attorney Eric Mitton is determined to proceed with his horrendous war against our unhoused communities. It's up to us to tell the City of Medford that this is proposed ordinance is unacceptable.

We welcome individual signers from anyone who lives or works in Medford, Oregon. To endorse as a group or business, please note that in the comments or write to Emily.Mann@soequity.org.

*It was previously reported that the ordinance penalties would be up to 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine, but the most recent version of the ordinance proposes up to 30 days and a $500 fine. The City has also proposed minor changes to the law, which include vague and undefined provisions for allowing tents during the winter. We've updated the content of this petition to reflect these changes. However, the ordinance is still inhumane. No one should be fined or arrested for living outside, or lying down in a public space.

Petition by

To: Medford City Council and Mayor Randy Sparacino
From: [Your Name]

​As housed and unhoused community members who live, work and volunteer in Medford, Oregon, we are writing to express grave concerns regarding the City’s proposed changes to its “Prohibited Camping” ordinance.

We all know that there has been an increase in people who are houseless and housing insecure. There are a variety of often interconnected reasons for this, including:
—Low wages, jobs without benefits, and unemployment.
—Skyrocketing rents and home prices.
—Inadequate public housing and shelter options.​
—Lack of adequate services for mental health, addiction, veterans, LGBTQ youth, people with disabilities, etc.
—The lack of a mobile crisis response program staffed by trained professionals.

These problems have all been made even worse by the pandemic and its economic impact and then the Almeda and Obenchain fires.

The City of Medford should be working with community groups to address those root causes more effectively and on a larger scale. Looking for more ways to make houselessness and poverty illegal will not benefit anyone. In fact, taking more people to jail, giving them a criminal record, saddling them with more debt, and exposing them to more trauma will make the situation worse for most individuals, not better.

If passed by City Council, Medford’s new “Prohibited Camping, Lying, and Sleeping” ordinance would:
—Make it illegal for people to use a tent.
—Make it illegal for people just to lie down or sleep in a variety of public spaces, including fields, underneath roadways and bridges, or near railroad tracks.

Penalties for using a tent as well as lying down or sleeping in public would increase from a non-criminal violation to a misdemeanor, with penalties up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The City has offered vague and undefined exceptions for tents during the winter, but the fact remains that people could still harsh penalties for simply living in a tent.

Criminalizing people for using tents is inhumane and puts people’s lives at risk. The right to lie down or sleep is a matter of survival and human dignity. The people of Medford, along with the rest of Jackson County, just voted not to keep throwing good money after bad by expanding jail capacity while failing to address underlying causes and adopt more cost-effective approaches. This ordinance flies directly in the face of that mandate.

The National Homelessness Law Center has also advised the Medford’s City Council to reject this proposed ordinance. The NHLC has advised the City that its proposed ordinance is likely to violate the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, and would make the City vulnerable to lawsuits.

The NHLC also cites evidence that the ordinance would be fiscally irresponsible. As they wrote to the City of Medford, “Numerous studies have shown that communities actually save money by providing housing and services to those in need, rather saddling them with fines, fees and arrest records and cycling them through expensive hospital and jail systems.” This unnecessarily burdens our taxpayers, ties up the court systems, and is not in alignment with the City's emphasis on fiscal conservatism.

We are also disheartened by the Medford City Council's lack of engagement with our local unhoused communities around these issues. It is unconscionable to create laws targeting a marginalized group of people, in this case the unhoused community, with such callous disregard for the effects such a law will have on that group of people.

Proponents of this ordinance are trying to use fire safety as an excuse for further criminalization of houselessness and poverty. Everyone in Medford is concerned about fire safety. But that should be considered separately and not mixed with new criminal penalties for lying down, sleeping, or seeking shelter from the elements in a tent. The best way to prevent fires from occurring at encampments is to provide housing for people.

We ask that City Council reject this proposed ordinance and instead work with community groups on solutions that protect the civil and human rights of unhoused neighbors and address the real underlying problems.​

This petition is endorsed by the numerous groups, businesses, and organizations, including:
Building a Better Future, Community Alliance of Tenants, Housing Justice Alliance, Jackson County Democrats, Justice and Peace Ministry Team of the Medford United Church of Christ, Medford Cowork Collective, Medford United Church of Christ, Mother Earth Medicine, Oregon DA for the People, Portal Brewing, Real Solutions Coalition, Red Earth Descendants, Rise and Resist Southern Oregon, Rogue Action Center, Rogue Climate, Rogue Food Unites, Siskiyou Abolition Project, Siskiyou Street News, Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity, Southern Oregon Tenants Union, Stabbin Wagon MFR, StaeFli Farms, Truth and Concilation Council, Western Regional Advocacy Project, Vision Quilt