FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 16, 2021
PRESS CONTACT: Maig Tinnin, Housing Justice Alliance, 541-414-4551, firstname.lastname@example.org
After Cold Weather Kills an Unhoused Man in Medford, Housing Advocates Demand a Change
[Medford, OR] – Following this week’s weather-related death of an unhoused resident in Medford, Oregon, local housing advocates are urging the city to take action to prevent future fatalities. As temperatures dropped across the state this week, Manuel Barboza-Valerio’s death made local headlines after his body was discovered on the morning of December 15. This is one of the first deaths linked to hypothermia since the City of Medford passed its controversial “Prohibited Camping, Lying and Sleeping” ordinance earlier this year.
Reports from police indicate that Barboza-Valerio’s body was found along a section of the Bear Creek Greenway bikepath, underneath an Interstate 5 overpass. It appears that he was staying outside without a sleeping bag or tent. A statement issued by the local Housing Justice Alliance examines the role Medford’s “Prohibited Camping” ordinance may have played in Barboza-Valerio’s death. “People are without tents in Medford because tents are illegal,” says the Housing Justice Alliance.
In Medford, the use of a tent is a crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. “We knew Manny through our street outreach program,” says Derek DeForest, a member of the Housing Justice Alliance. “The area where he was staying, and where he died – it’s an area where police are really relentless. These past few weeks, cops have regularly told people to take down their tents, threatening them with arrest if they don’t comply.”
The Housing Justice Alliance is asking the City of Medford to reconsider its most controversial policies, and requesting that community members contact City Council about these issues. The group wants the city to “enact an immediate moratorium against the City’s ‘Prohibited Camping, Lying, and Sleeping’ ordinance” this winter. They are also urging the City to invest in housing first solutions, and instructing the police to stop issuing “move-along” orders. The Housing Justice Alliance’s demands for change can be found here: tinyurl.com/RememberingManny
Joe Gibson is an unhoused resident of Jackson County, who regularly cooks meals for other unhoused residents as part of the Hawthorne Mutual Aid Project. “It takes a lot to make me shed a tear but I did today,” says Gibson. “The way this city and its police treat us, it’s inhumane. They are putting us through cruel and unusual punishment – causing trauma and suffering to the point of loss of life.”
Barboza-Valerio was also remembered by volunteers at the City of Medford’s official emergency weather shelter, where he was known to stay during previous extreme weather events. The shelter was operational the night that Barboza-Valerio died but it reached full capacity around 9PM, after which point individuals seeking shelter were turned away.
“Manny’s death is a tragic yet inevitable result of Medford’s policies and policing,” states the Housing Justice Alliance, and at least one Medford City Councilor agrees. “We’re responsible for this,” says council member Sarah Spansail. “Manny’s death is on us.”