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Car Camping Decision Now In Federal Court

On June 19 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Los Angeles law prohibiting people from living in their vehicles, and legal experts say that law could affect other cities in the region with similar bans. Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel that “the City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.” 

Pastor Dan Bryant of First Christian Church, who chairs the board for Opportunity Village transitional housing in Eugene, says, “The conclusion in the decision pretty much says it all. Bans on living out of one’s vehicle, often the last ‘major possession’ a person without a home has, ‘opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor.’”

Jean Stacey, an advocate for the unhoused, says she thinks Eugene’s camping ordinance is also overly vague and open to being unevenly applied. She adds, “I don’t know the penalty in L.A., but in Eugene a second ticket for RV camping can get your car impounded … and does.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, “Carol Sobel, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the ruling would affect bans similar to Los Angeles’ throughout the Ninth Circuit, which covers seven Western states as well as Alaska and Hawaii.”

The city attorney’s office did review the federal court’s ruling, Eugene city attorney Glenn Klein tells EW, and “based on our review, we believe that Eugene’s prohibited camping provisions are constitutional and can continue to be enforced.”

Bryant says that although advocates have worked to reduce the impact of discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor, “unfortunately, there are simply too few spots available” and it appears that St. Vincent de Paul “will have to reduce the number of spots they manage because of a reduction in funds from the city of Eugene.”

Bryant says that losing car-camping spots “will likely only increase costs to the city when city officials will have to deal with those who no longer have an approved parking spot.” He says providing approved places to park is cost-efficient and that his preference would be “to expand such services rather than reduce them so that we do not have to go to the courts to find a way for those who have no other options to survive in our community.”