Sheriff's Department sweep gives transients 24 hours to remove their camps and belongings or face arrest

Sheriff's deputies searched for homeless camps Monday along the Bear Creek Greenway, warning transients to clear out within 24 hours or be subject to arrest and the confiscation of their belongings.

They found camps littered with debris that were tucked into the dense woods along either side of the Greenway, which stretches from Ashland to Central Point.

One homeless man, 51-year-old Terry Pierce, wasn't happy about the eviction notice or the ticket he received for disorderly conduct.

"I'm poor," Pierce said. "I got nowhere to go."

He said he lived in a tent near Ashland and was asking for money near the intersection of South Valley View Road and Highway 99.

Pierce took the notice and ticket seriously, carefully folding them and putting them into his wallet. He said he vowed to fight them in court.

The flier from the Sheriff's Department warned people that camping is prohibited along the Greenway and that anyone currently living there must remove their belongings and trash immediately.

Undersheriff Rod Countryman said deputies provided phone numbers and locations where displaced homeless people could go, though many don't like the shelters. "A lot of them, they just prefer to live along the Greenway," he said.

The sheriff's department sweeps the popular biking and hiking trail two to four times a year, depending on incidents or the change in seasons.

On Monday, 18 people were contacted, and numerous abandoned and occupied camps were found that will be removed later this week.

Countryman said there was no specific incident that prompted the sweep, but deputies wanted to clear the area in anticipation of an increase in visitors along the Greenway as the weather improves.

"It is something we do on a periodic basis," he said. "We're just trying to be proactive."

Homeless camps will disappear from one area, only to reappear in another area once the sweep is over, frustrating the effort to keep the Greenway clear.

Earlier, helicopters and other patrols had pinpointed homeless camps. On Monday three teams of two deputies drove four-wheel-drive vehicles along the Greenway and off onto side trails searching for the camps.

They marked the locations with a global positioning system to make it easier to find later this week.

By Monday afternoon, the teams hadn't returned, and Countryman said he didn't have a count of how many camps they had found.

Countryman said law enforcement is required to provide a warning before the sweep takes place.

"You can't ask them to move until you give them 24 hours' notice," he said.

Countryman said he hasn't seen any significant increase in homeless camps since a Medford panhandling law was overturned by the courts last year.

Jenna Stanke, Jackson County Greenway coordinator, said she has received some complaints about homeless camps from Greenway users but no more than normal.

"I had thought that with the economy there would be more," she said.

Stanke supported the effort to clear out the camps at this time of year.

"The trash is an issue for sure, especially in the springtime with the water rising — it could end up down the Rogue," she said. "And then, there's the safety, or the perception of safety."

Stanke said it makes some Greenway users feel unsafe to encounter homeless people or to see the camps and all the trash.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.