GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A homeless woman has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Grants Pass, alleging that the city government has pursued a policy of "trying to run homeless people out of town," according to court documents.
Previous records put Debra Blake at roughly 60 years old. In her suit, she says that she has lived in Grants Pass for 14 years. Seven years ago, Blake lost her job and her housing — leading to her life sleeping outdoors in the city.
Since Blake became homeless, she claims, the city has done little to provide for their ballooning homeless population, and instead has done everything in its power to get them to simply "move along."
Now Blake is represented by attorneys at the Oregon Law Center, who filed her suit against the city on Monday:
"Over a period of years, the City of Grants Pass has taken coordinated steps to drive homeless people out of town," the suit claims. "The City has refused to allow warming stations in the winter (which are very cold), and cooling stations in the summer (which are very hot and increasingly smoky). The City has removed park benches from its parks. The City has paid one-way bus fare for homeless people to leave town. The City has driven people to Jackson County.
"One city councilor stated in a city council meeting, 'the point is to make it uncomfortable enough for them [homeless people] in our city so they will want to move on down the road.' At the same time, city council has voted against affordable housing in the City and has failed to take steps to create a low-barrier emergency shelter for the hundreds of homeless people who live in the City."
Meanwhile, Blake claims, Grants Pass authorities have pursued a ruthless campaign to "criminalize" the existence of homeless people — consistently waking, and often arresting or citing the homeless when they attempt to sleep anywhere within the City limits.
Blake says that she now owes Grants Pass more than $4,000 in fines and late fees — all stemming from illegal camping or trespass charges.
As a class action lawsuit, Oregon Law Center will be seeking more plaintiffs to join the suit from the Grants Pass homeless population.
The lawsuit does mention that there are several shelters in the city operated by the Gospel Rescue Mission. However, the suit says, the Mission limits the duration of stays to 30 days and levels a number of extra conditions that restrict who can stay with them and how.
Blake's lawyers at the Oregon Law Center denied a request for comment. The Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and the City Attorney likewise declined to comment on the case.
This is a developing story, and NewsWatch 12 will post updates as more details emerge.