Two-Time Paralympian Leads Lawsuit Against Portland For Letting Homeless Block Sidewalks

Two-Time Paralympian Leads Lawsuit Against Portland For Letting Homeless Block Sidewalks

A two-time Paralympian is leading nine other Portland, Oregon residents, all of whom have physical disabilities, to sue the city, accusing it of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to remove homeless encampments from city sidewalks.

Paralympian Tiana Tozer, the lead plaintiff, was struck by a car when she was 20, then underwent 36 reconstructive surgeries on her legs that left her unable to walk. Still, she won bronze and silver in the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.

“The City’s failure to curb and reasonably control the proliferation of tent encampments has had a particularly harmful impact on persons with mobility disabilities,” the lawsuit charges.

“Indeed, a substantial number of the City’s sidewalks — particularly those in the City’s busiest business corridors — do not comply with applicable federal statutes and regulations because they are blocked by tent encampments and attendant debris, rendering the sidewalks inaccessible, dangerous, and unsanitary for people with mobility disabilities,” the lawsuit adds.

The lawsuit notes that according to a January 2022 survey of the Portland Metropolitan Area, 5,228 persons in Multnomah County were homeless, and 3,057 were unsheltered and sleeping on the street. Of the people sleeping on the street, many had made the streets unsafe and hazardous.

One of the plaintiffs, Steve Jackson, 47, is legally blind and uses a cane. He told a news conference, “Often there’s tents blocking the entire sidewalk, where I don’t see them because they weren’t there the day before, and I hit the tent and then people are mad at me and think I’m attacking them,” The Associated Press reported.

“The denial of meaningful, equal, and safe access to the City’s sidewalks for persons with mobility disabilities complained of in this Complaint is the direct result of the City’s policies, procedures, and practices with regard to sidewalks and unsheltered persons,” the lawsuit alleges. “The City has failed to adopt or implement reasonable administrative methods, policies, and procedures for inspecting, clearing, and maintaining the sidewalks, as required by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported homelessness soared by 25% in the Portland area between 2020 and 2022, according to The Associated Press.

According to residents living near Northeast 125th Place and Shaver Street, a homeless encampment in their neighborhood has stayed there for two years. One resident told KGW, “They just spread their crap out. It’s a different bunch of junk every year, every day. … They cover up the sidewalk and people can’t walk by.”

Another resident said she had reported the camp every week to the city, lamenting, “Oh my word, I would average one to two times a week for two years.”