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The Unhoused and the Right to Rest

Standing still. Using the bathroom. Sleeping. These are things we all do and, in fact, all things we do to survive. But laws in some cities, including Eugene, penalize people for trying to meet their basic needs. 

Local advocates for the unhoused are teaming up with representatives from the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights in three states, including Oregon. Paul Boden of WRAP will take part in a Sept. 22 forum discussing the Oregon Homeless Bill of Rights and Right to Rest legislation.

Boden compares laws that prevent the unhoused from sleeping in parks or resting on sidewalks to historic Jim Crow laws banning people of color and to “ugly laws” banning “unsightly” or “unseemly” people — often people with disabilities — from cities. 

He points to laws such as Eugene’s camping ban and the ordinances barring dogs on 13th Avenue near campus and making it “illegal to remain” between the curb and the sidewalk on that same street.

While Jim Crow and ugly laws have been overturned or declared unconstitutional, Boden says, the power to enforce them “has never been touched, so for three years going on a fourth year we have been aggressively bringing this issue up to state level hearings and through legislative efforts.”

Boden, who was previously homeless, is a dynamic speaker who liberally laces his commentary with vivid descriptions and f-bombs. He says that as someone who formerly lived on the streets, he refers to the homeless as “we.” 

The history of discriminatory laws is why “we crafted it the way we did; we are the most recent target.”

 It’s not just a homeless issue, it’s a human rights issue, Boden says. “We may be the current target but we are not the first and we know we are not the last.” In the current political climate, Muslim-Americans could become a target, as could day laborers and transgender people, he says.

According to Boden, the laws are discriminatory because law enforcement might target a homeless person for napping in a public park or lounging on the sidewalk, but not harass someone else for the same things. He says one thing those harassed by such laws have in common is “we are poor and not popular and not shopping” and people look at them and think, “If you are not there to shop, what the fuck are you doing here?” 

Ken Neubeck, together with Michael Carrigan of Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), is organizing the forum. Neubeck, who is on the Eugene Human Rights Commission, says his advocacy for Right to Rest and Homeless Bill of Rights legislation is as a private citizen and Occupy Medical volunteer, as the commission cannot endorse legislative efforts.

Neubeck says laws that target people who “have no choice but to live outdoors and eat, sleep and relieve themselves in public spaces” criminalize homelessness and add to the burden of the unhoused by giving them tickets they cannot pay and a criminal record that could affect future employment and efforts to get housing. 

Forums have been taking place across Oregon, including in Madras and Portland, and WRAP is working on legislation in California and Colorado in addition to Oregon. 

CALC and WRAP will be hosting a forum about the Oregon Homeless Bill of Rights and Right to Rest legislation with Paul Boden and Portland WRAP members 6 pm Thursday, Sept. 22, at the First Christian Church Chapel, 1166 Oak. FREE. For more on WRAP go to wraphome.org.