Oregon city’s challenge in US Supreme Court could change country’s homeless camping policies

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Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. friction / ˈfrɪk ʃən / (n.) – a conflict or disagreement between people or groups, often resulting from differing opinions or interests

    Friction between the city council and local activists arose over the proposed construction of a new highway.

  2. unconstitutional / ˌʌn kɒn stɪˈtu ʃə nl / (adj.) – against the principles or rules of a country’s constitution

    The court ruled that the new law was unconstitutional because it violated citizens’ rights to freedom of speech.

  3. incarceration / ɪnˌkɑr səˈreɪ ʃən / (n.) – the act of being kept in a prison as a punishment for committing a crime

    After his arrest, he faced a long period of incarceration for his involvement in robbery.

  4. vandalism / ˈvæn dlˌɪz əm / (n.) – the crime of destroying others’ property, usually public property

    The school’s administration promised to address the issue of vandalism on campus by installing security cameras.

  5. excessive / ɪkˈsɛs ɪv / (adj.) – more than what is necessary, normal, or reasonable

    The city council received complaints about the excessive noise from the construction site late into the night.


Read the text below.

Volunteers help people pack up their tents and belongings in a city in rural Southern Oregon. The homeless here need to move to another park to avoid being cited by police for staying at one spot for too long.

“The situation’s only escalating, and we’re seeing more and more people unhoused. And at the same time, we’re seeing more and more friction and frustration from community members on both sides,” said Cassy Leach, a nurse and volunteer.

The homelessness problem in Grants Pass shows no sign of abating. But the situation here could also dictate how cities across the country interact with people living on the streets.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a challenge by Grants Pass on federal rulings that say cities can’t fine or punish people for sleeping outside if there aren’t enough shelter beds available because doing so is unconstitutional. Grants Pass is asking the justices to review those rulings and allow it to fully enforce its anti-camping laws.

Charley Willison, an assistant professor at Cornell University, said, “If these civil or criminal penalties can be enforced, it will likely go back to a status quo of cycles of incarceration, which also facilitates cycles of homelessness.”

The tension in Grants Pass is centered in the city’s parks, where many homeless live. “Families are afraid to go to the parks. And it’s not just the campers or the homeless. It’s the drug use and the vandalism and the excessive littering,” said Brock Spurgeon, Grants Pass resident and member “park watch” group.

Despite the growing homeless population, the city only has one overnight shelter for adults. Run by a religious group, it has rules that prevent many from living there and has only 138 beds.

Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol says housing those living outside is an issue her hometown has to face, regardless of the way the Supreme Court rules.

“[…] Maybe then we can start policing the parks again, but we still have like 200 people who have to go somewhere. And so I just don’t really see how that resolves the issue,” said Bristol.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • The homeless in Oregon need to move to another park to avoid being cited by police for staying at one spot for too long. In your opinion, should homeless people be fined or penalized for doing so? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Is homelessness also a problem in your country? What makes you say so? In your opinion, is the government taking action to help the homeless people? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • The city only has one overnight shelter for adults that’s run by a religious group. However, many homeless can’t stay there due to the rules. Why do you think there should be rules in such a shelter? What rules do you think should be implemented in shelters for the homeless (ex. curfew, limited number of stays)? Discuss.
  • How can communities balance the rights and safety concerns of residents with the needs and rights of homeless individuals to find shelter and live in public spaces? Discuss.