TALENT — Some local residents say they have noticed a recent increase in the number of homeless people in Talent, an issue that merited discussion at a City Council meeting.
"My friends ... always talked about how we didn't have any homeless in Talent. You didn't notice people with their backpacks," noted Debi Rappaport, who said she and her friends now she see homeless people near Camelot Theatre and on benches outside City Hall.
Councilwoman Diane Glendenning, who lives within sight of the railroad tracks that run through downtown, said she also has observed more homeless people in town.
Possible causes include the recent approval of an exclusionary zone ordinance in downtown Ashland, a less welcoming attitude there and continuing poor economic conditions. Temporary closure of the Bear Creek Greenway between Talent and Ashland for repairs in May and June may also have sent transients into town.
"In the city of Talent, there are more and more homeless people," Rappaport told City Council at its June 6 meeting. "I just don't want us to turn into Ashland. It's really sad what's happening there."
Rappaport said she discovered a homeless woman was camping in plum trees on city property along the railroad tracks north of City Hall near her home on May 22. On May 27, a neighbor confronted the woman and called Rappaport to be part of the discussion. The woman left on May 28.
Subsequent contact by Rappaport with City Hall led to the clearing of brush and removal of lower tree limbs so that camping sites are not hidden. Additional police patrols have also been instituted in the area, said City Manager Tom Corrigan.
Police had contact with three people loitering along Front Street near the railroad tracks Monday evening. The three told officers they had camped at the site previously.
"What I'm seeing is people who are carrying backpacks that could be interpreted as being homeless coming and going in Talent," said Glendenning. "There's been an uptick in it lately.
"There is more publicity in Ashland regarding the homeless problem," said Glendenning. "I'm wondering if people are moving out and coming to Talent."
Rappaport said she has concerns for her safety and has altered her dog-walking route to avoid areas where she's likely to encounter homeless people.
Ruddy Havil, who helps manage a food pantry in Talent, said he, too, has seen more homeless and particularly has seen an increase in the number of homeless who come to the pantry seeking food assistance.
But interviews with several homeless people on Ashland's Plaza Wednesday seemed to indicate Talent is not a significant destination for them.
Laid-off teacher Alexander Malloy had spent four days in Ashland playing guitar and drums to earn money while living in his car. He'd had breakfast in Talent that morning, he said.
"Talent doesn't seem big enough to make an impact," said Malloy. "People love the weird here."
Eric Kutz said has never camped in Talent, but said he hears that some homeless people from Ashland occasionally spend time there.
"The kids who are homeless here don't really associate with Talent," said a man who identified himself as Boy and declined to give a last name. Many homeless people traveling between larger cities come through Ashland but generally don't stop in nearby smaller towns, he said.
"A lot of the (homeless) folks in Talent have family there," said Boy.
But Opal, who didn't give his last name, said homeless people tend to move around and don't stay in any one place too long.
"We see quite a few people passing through the city on the way to visit in Medford or Ashland, where there are more resources (for the homeless)," said Police Chief Mike Moran, adding that he thinks homeless numbers have remained about the same over the last few years.
Trespass ordinances would be used to cite and evict people who camped illegally on public land, said Moran.
Panhandlers sometimes solicit money near the Walmart parking lot close to Bear Creek, said Moran.
"They will put up signs, but as long as they are not causing an issue for the property owner, not impeding traffic or disturbing the peace, we are not worried about it," said Moran. "It's private property, and they can ask them to move on if they become a nuisance or abusive."
Jackson County Sheriff's Office said several reports have been received over the last two years for illegal camping or trespassing along the Greenway near Talent, but when officers followed up the individuals were gone. No citations have been issued for two years, said spokeswoman Andrea Carlson.
A 10-year state plan to end homelessness has been adopted by Jackson County, said Rappaport.
"I think we should end it and not encourage it," she said. "There's help out there for people who want it."
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.