Rep. Farrah Chaichi, D-Beaverton, speaks to people at a sparsely attended rally for her House Bill 3501 on Thursday. (Photo by Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Supporters of a scuttled bill to allow homeless people to camp in any public spaces vowed to keep trying during a small rally outside the Oregon Capitol on Thursday.

Rep. Farrah Chaichi, D-Beaverton, and her legislative assistant were among 14 people who showed up to the protest over House Bill 3501, a measure to decriminalize camping in public places and allow homeless people to sue for $1,000 if harassed or forced to move. 

Federal courts in Portland and San Francisco have struck down local laws in Boise and Grants Pass around camping, ruling that cities can’t punish people for sleeping outdoors if they don’t have available shelters. Oregon passed a law in 2021 to require cities to adopt “objectively reasonable” laws on the time, place and manner of camping restrictions — for instance, cities could restrict homeless camps within a certain vicinity of a public school. 

Supporters of House Bill 3501 contend the court rulings and current law don’t do enough to protect homeless people. But their vision isn’t popular in Salem: The measure has been dead for months because it didn’t have a public hearing or vote before a March deadline.

“We are going to continue to have people sleeping out on the streets even if we pass every bill in this building,” Chaichi said. 

The House Committee on Housing and Homelessness scheduled an informational hearing on the bill in May but canceled after a barrage of complaints and negative coverage in national media outlets. At the time, House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said in a statement that she and many other representatives from both parties did not support the measure. 

“House Bill 3501 doesn’t have the support or the time to move forward, full stop,” Fahey said. “Given that this bill has become a significant distraction from all of the work we’re doing this legislative session — including historic investments and groundbreaking policy work on housing — the chair has made the decision, with my support, to cancel the public hearing set for this Thursday.”

During the rally Thursday, Chaichi objected to the idea that the bill was a distraction. Lawmakers received just as much criticism over bills on abortion and guns, but they didn’t set those bills aside, she argued.

“Fighting for people’s rights isn’t a distraction from the work,” she said. “It is the work.”

She said she plans to bring the bill back, likely in 2025 because lawmakers are limited to introducing two bills in the abbreviated 2024 session. 

Her legislative assistant Keith Haxton is formerly homeless and racked up citations for sleeping outside in Ashland a decade ago as part of what they described as a protest of unfair city laws. Haxton planned to sleep in Salem’s Marion Square Park on Thursday night in a show of solidarity with people who don’t have a home.

Haxton said they learned during the past few months working in the Legislature that lawmakers are cruel and cowards, and that the bill would only pass if Oregonians elect new representatives. 

“We have to threaten them at the ballot box,” Haxton said. “Don’t waste your time calling your representative or senator.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.