Unhoused residents file complaint in court against city of Clarkston

A complaint filed by unhoused residents with disabilities and the Clarkston nonprofit Elves for the Homeless alleges the city of Clarkston violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and several constitutional rights. (Credit: Rachel Sun / NWPB & the Tribune)



Four unhoused Clarkston residents, along with the nonprofit Elves for the Homeless, have filed a lawsuit against the City of Clarkston in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Washington.

The four residents, all of whom have disabilities, include John Parke, Scott Darrington, Nancy Caskey and Tamara Apfelbeck.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege the city’s ordinance on camping within city limits violates the Americans with Disabilities Act through a policy they say disproportionately affected them because of their disabilities.

Ordinance 1706 limits camping from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and each person or household is limited to a 64-square-foot plot (the equivalent of 8 feet by 8 feet) at Foster Park, on Diagonal Street in Clarkston.

Plaintiffs argue the city’s nonresponse to a March 7 letter requesting changes to the ordinance constituted a failure to make reasonable accommodations to avoid disability discrimination.

John Wolff, the attorney at the Northwest Justice Project representing the group, said the unhoused plaintiffs are representative of more unhoused residents not specifically named in the complaint.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 31% of people experiencing homelessness in 2023 had experienced a chronic pattern of homelessness, which means they experienced homelessness for extended periods of time and have a disability.

“My clients are persons living with disabilities. They are residents of Clarkston, some of them longtime residents,” Wolff said. “This case is about asserting their rights to the basic means of survival.”

The complaint also lists several alleged violations of federal and state constitutional rights, including the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, seizure of property without due process and the right to travel, which plaintiffs say also includes the right not to travel.

“They want us to just sit in the rain and wait around for 9 p.m. to set up our tents, getting soaked. Humans need shelter during the day, too,” Caskey said in a quote provided in the complaint.

Wolff and several individuals working with homeless residents have said that numerous unhoused people are thought to have left the city because of the limitations imposed by the city’s ordinance.

City attorney Suzanne “Suni” Hanson said Friday the city had not yet been served the complaint and could not comment on pending litigation.

“I will say I’m disappointed at the resources that must now be expended,” she said. “While we await comment on the City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.”

That case, set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 22, will decide if a city’s enforcement of camping ordinances against involuntarily homeless residents violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Wolff said the group had attempted to pursue a resolution with the city pre-suit, but had been unsuccessful.

“We’ve gotten no indication from the city that they have that interest at this time,” he said. “In fact, the reports on the ground that I’m receiving indicated that the city’s actually escalating some of their efforts.”

On Thursday, two men were arrested after the city began closing Foster Park from 8 a.m. to noon, citing a need for maintenance and watering the lawn.

As of Friday, Wolff said he was aware of 11 people who had been cited for violations related to the ordinance.

So far, Hanson said, several people had been arraigned for violating the city’s ordinance, but none currently faced the penalties, which could include up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or an order of exclusion for six months.

Hanson said the city was still in the midst of its separate legal analysis of the claims made in the March 7 letter.

“I think the basic position is that the ordinance will stand while we’re continuing to review it,” Hanson said.