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Advocates demand change after homeless man dies outside in Medford

"Don't Take Our Tents and Vigil for the Streets" event. Taken in April 2021.
Housing Justice Alliance
Housing Justice Alliance
"Don't Take Our Tents and Vigil for the Streets" event, April 1 2021.

Last week, an unhoused man died in Medford after being exposed to the elements during a cold night. In response, housing advocates are asking the city to halt its controversial “prohibited camping, lying and sleeping” ordinance.

Manuel Barboza-Valerio died last week under the 10th Street Bridge after sleeping outside without a tent or sleeping bag. Initial reports stated his cause of death was exposure and hypothermia. According to Medford police, Barboza-Valerio was 29 years old.

His death has spurred debate about a Medford city ordinance that was passed in April. The “prohibited camping, lying and sleeping” ordinance does not allow camping within city limits, with a punishment of up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

The evening before Barboza-Valerio died, the emergency weather shelter in the city was full.

Maig Tinnin, a volunteer with the Housing Justice Alliance, says the threat of arrest has put homeless people in danger.

“It definitely increased criminalization for people that are unhoused and frankly has effectively deterred people from using equipment like tents to be able to stay alive during extreme weather,” she says.

The Housing Justice Alliance is asking for a complete moratorium on the ordinance for the duration of winter. They are also asking for a refocus on prioritizing housing, instead of focusing on enforcement of anti-camping laws.

The Medford City Council convened on Thursday to review the ordinance and ultimately decided to uphold it.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.