ashland.news
May 26, 2024

Now that it has an alternative, city to begin enforcing public camping policy on May 26

The city of Ashland is providing a “reasonable alternative overnight sleeping site” at the lawn area behind Council Chambers at 1175 E. Main St. The site opened on Friday, May 12, 2023. Bob Palermini photo
May 18, 2023

Courts have said cities can’t say where people can’t camp when there is nowhere they can camp

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news  

The space designated by the city of Ashland behind its police department and City Council chambers for public camping has remained largely unused as of Thursday afternoon, according to Ashland Chief of Police Tighe O’Meara, nearly one week after the city designated the lawn area there for public overnight camping for homeless individuals.

Starting on Friday, May 26, the city will enforce its pending new policy surrounding public camping, which will mean the end of across-the-board 72-hour notices given to individuals who sleep outdoors on public property. The designated camping space, located on the lawn behind City Council Chambers and the Ashland Police Department, sits near a garbage bin and a port-o-potty restroom and sanitation station also provided by the city. Overnight sleeping is allowed in this newly designated “Dusk-to-Dawn” site between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. The space can hold 12 to 15 10- by 10-foot sites on the lawn.

“We’re offering a reasonable place for them to camp for 12 and a half hours a night, right next door to the police station,” O’Meara said. “There’s reasonable rules put in place, so if you want to talk about where you’re going to be safe or where you’re not going to be safe, right next next door to the police station is probably a lot safer than just some random park where you don’t have any oversight and there aren’t any particular rules.”

The site is offered as an alternative to overnight camping in other public locations, including the downtown Plaza, the Gateway Island median in front of the Ashland Public Library, and city parks such as Triangle and Garfield parks, where public rights-of-way are prohibited for overnight sleeping or camping use. City officials said it will take the next two weeks to inform Ashland’s houseless community of the “Dusk-to-Dawn” site’s availability before more firmly enforcing unauthorized camping prohibitions on public property. 

“We wanted to be sure that the parks are available for everyone, so this is really the first property that we identified as a potential location and it was easily implementable because there’s no public access, and quite frankly, a number of folks have been camping out in front of the police station, so we’re just asking them to move to the backside of the police station,” Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard said.

A city parking lot sits between the designated camping area and The Grove, a Parks & Recreation facility hosting activities for youth and seniors during the day, which O’Meara said should not be an issue.

The city of Ashland is providing a “reasonable alternative overnight sleeping site” at the lawn area behind Council Chambers at 1175 E. Main St. The site opened on Friday, May 12, 2023. On Monday, May 15, there were no campers present when the site opened. Bob Palermini photo

“I expect it’ll be in place at least through this year,” Lessard said, of the designated site.

The city is at the halfway point of a two-week period — which started May 12 and ends May 26 — to let homeless individuals currently camping on public property know about the city’s change in policy. 

The city is taking note of this as a chance to more firmly enforce the rules that were once in place a few years ago.

“Because we are making a reasonable alternative available to people, with reasonable rules in place, that puts us in a position where we can once again tell people where they can’t sleep,” O’Meara said. “It’s us adjusting to federal court rulings (Martin v. the city of Boise) that make it a little bit more complex to enforce prohibited camping rules.

“Rulings came out of the Ninth Circuit that if you don’t tell someone where they can sleep, you can’t tell them where they can’t sleep,” he added.

O’Meara commented on the lack of use in the space so far.

“There’s one guy who showed up on Saturday for a few hours and then he left,” O’Meara told Ashland.news.

The site will be monitored by on-duty officers, O’Meara said, but no one will be specifically assigned to supervise the site.

“It’s literally next door to the police station, so if there are any problems, it should be pretty obvious,” O’Meara said. “And, frankly, nobody’s using it anyways, so it’s a non-issue.”

He said the site should be well-known by now to those in the community who are consistently sleeping outdoors in Ashland.

O’Meara believes the lack of use is not for lack of promotion by the city as he said those who are known to be homeless have been notified.

“Everybody knows it’s there,” he said. “The people that are camping in public refuse to participate in what they call our ‘concentration camp’. They continue to insist that they can do whatever they want, they can camp wherever they want and nobody’s going to tell them different.”

O’Meara said some homeless individuals have used the term “concentration camp” in reference to the site directly in conversations with officers, a term he rejects.

“We’re trying to contact people and tell them the rules are changing, that there’s a reasonable alternative camping site for them to use so the officers have heard that term come directly from some of the campers,” O’Meara said.

The rules currently require police to provide 72-hour notice for campers. 

O’Meara noted the majority of “enforcement contacts” with people don’t end with a citation.

“Just because we’re saying we’re having a two-week learning curve period to get everybody onto the new page of the playbook, that doesn’t mean that come that two-week mark, we’re going to have our ticket books out and we’re going to be writing everybody tickets,” O’Meara said. “Enforcement is still one tool, but it’s not going to become the go-to thing where everybody gets a citation for prohibited camping. It’s just that we’re going to be back to where we were three or four years ago, before these federal court rulings came out made it more complex enforcing prohibited camping.

“We’re trying to be as gentle as we can with this change in our plan,” he added.

Lessard said homeless individuals should have enough time to plan to relocate to the space.

“They can’t be in the parks, they need to move to this location or elsewhere,” Lessard said. “We’re providing the restroom and the sanitation station and the trash receptacle and so forth there.”

The city will start enforcing the following on May 26: Campers on public property elsewhere than the site designated behind the police station can be evicted from the space if they have been there less than 24 hours.

“If you’ve been there longer than that, we’re going to give you the 72 hours (notice) immediately,” Lessard said. “That means we’re being about as lenient as we can in terms of the enforcement activity.”

“If you don’t tell someone where they can sleep, you can’t tell them where they can’t sleep.”
— Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara, explaining a court decision

The designated camping site has been in the works for at least two months, according to Lessard.

“We really have to provide folks a reasonable alternative, if they can’t be in certain parts of the city,” Lessard said.

“We’re trying to give them an easy, accessible area to make it as amenable as we could for its use,” he added.

Lessard said he’s spoken with city of Medford officials about their plans, but the cities didn’t coordinate on their individual policies.

“What I understand is that cities across Oregon are looking at this issue,” Lessard said.“We developed our proposal independently. Our program is actually for folks who are needing a camping location. We’re doing a couple things to try to be as lenient or as accommodating as we can.”

Lessard said the city of Ashland will be looking at other municipalities that have put this type of program into place, including the city of Eugene.

The city of Eugene’s program started in 2015 and now operates through a partnership with Lane County.

“Everybody assumes that the city will take care of every issue,” Lessard said. “It’s getting to the point where a lot of issues are not easily addressed by one entity vs. another, and so, I think homelessness is probably one of those issues where any kind of partnership is an important step forward,” he said. “Right now we’re doing what we can on our own ’cause we felt like it was important to act as soon as possible to provide a location for folks, but I think now we can go on to have further conversations.”  

Lessard said he’ll be trying to schedule a visit to Eugene within the next three to four weeks to tour their programs.

“We had a conversation with St. Vincent de Paul who runs a couple of their programs and so now we want to go up and actually visualize it and get a chance to meet people firsthand,” Lessard said.

The city of Ashland is providing a “reasonable alternative overnight sleeping site” at the lawn area behind Council Chambers (visible at left) at 1175 E. Main St. The site opened on Friday, May 12, 2023. On Monday, May 15, there were no campers present when the site opened. Bob Palermini photo

The city of Ashland has put the following rules in place about the designated site:

  • Campers must vacate the site by 7:30 a.m. and may not return until 7 p.m. each day.
  • The sleeping space is limited to a 10-feet by 10-feet area allocation for each individual user or companion users of the site.
  • The use of tents or a similar temporary overnight cover is allowed within a sleeping space site.
  • All camping gear and personal belongings must be contained in a sleeping space allotted and removed from the area by 7:30 a.m. each day.
  • Any camping gear and/or personal belongings of value left on site after 7:30 a.m. will be removed and stored by the city. Campers will have 30 days to retrieve belongings.
  • Items determined to pose a health or safety risk to the users of this site are subject to immediate removal and/or disposal.
  • Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Pets:

  • Pets are allowed on-site and must be under their owners control at all time.
  • Pets cannot be left unattended.
  • If a pet is aggressive to other guests or pets, the guest and their pet are subject to immediate removal.
  • Pet owners are required to pick-up after their pets and properly dispose of waste.
  • All dogs six months of age or older must have received a rabies vaccine according to Oregon Health Authority guidelines. Upon request of law enforcement, the owner is obligated to provide proof of the rabies vaccine

Personal Behavior:

  • Campers must treat other guests and members of the public with kindness, dignity and respect
  • Disrespectful, violent, disruptive, vulgar or combative behavior will not be tolerated, nor will racism or bullying.
  • Campers must respect the allowable space of each camper.
  • All campers must pick up after themselves and their pets and dispose of all refuse, including cigarette butts in the appropriate receptacles provided.
  • Campers must adhere to a noise curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Campers must adhere to any posted speed limits and traffic rules while on the property.

Unauthorized and illegal activities — Unlawful behavior or noncompliance with rules for this site is immediate grounds for removal and future exclusion from access and use of this site, including for the following:

  • No visitors are allowed on this site, only overnight campers.
  • No unlawful weapons of any kind are allowed on this site.
  • No cooking, campfires or open flames are allowed on this site.
  • No illegal drug use, or legal recreational drug use including marijuana and/or alcohol use, is allowed on site.

The rules for use and behavior at the “Dusk-to-Dawn” site will be posted at the site.  Police will monitor the site with drive by patrols each evening. Individuals needing assistance at the site can contact the police for support by using the call box at the police station’s front entry or by calling 911.  

Persons found not following the rules are subject to immediate expulsion. Failure to remove personal belongings by 7:30 a.m. constitutes a breach of the rules and expulsion from the location, according to the city’s news release.

An appeal for being expelled from the camping area can be made to city management by email at administration@ashland.or.us or by phone at  541-488-6002. The city will provide a portable toilet, a clean-up station, pet waste bag stand and trash waste receptacles at the site.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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