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Seniors alarmed by homeless problems

Residents of a residential complex for seniors next to Medford's Railroad Park say they are alarmed at the increase in homeless who are trespassing, fighting, stealing, vandalizing and doing drugs in the area.

“I don’t want people to think this is a dangerous place, but the reality is it’s more and more of an issue,” said Jennifer Bagshaw, owner of the 180-unit Aspens on the Creek. 

Residents of the complex off Table Rock Road and next to the Bear Creek Greenway have voiced their objections to a city effort to provide a place to feed the homeless while Hawthorne Park is closed for renovations. The residents believe it might encourage more homeless people to congregate at Railroad Park. They submitted a petition to the City Council signed by 146 people opposed to feeding the homeless there.

For years, a thicket of blackberry bushes has been a deterrent for the homeless who traverse the Greenway. But, over the past year, the number of homeless entering yards and walking the streets in the complex has increased, Bagshaw said. 

“For decades, the blackberries have been good enough,” said Bagshaw. “The homeless are resourceful. They have used trimmers to create tunnels.” 

Efforts to clear out the blackberries in other parts of Medford have pushed the problems in her direction, she said. 

In some cases, residents have awoken to find people sleeping under carports or have noticed items missing from their yards. 

She said she has sympathy for the plight of the homeless and understands the need to provide food, but she said it’s gotten to the point where it threatens Aspens on the Creek, which has about 180 mobile homes and was started by her family in the 1960s. 

"I’m really torn about this, but my number one concern is the safety of my community,” Bagshaw said. 

She has received a quote to install a $12,000 fence separating the residents from an area overgrown with blackberries. She said tents are so well camouflaged that it would be difficult to pick them out in the undergrowth. The only way to detect the homeless is to listen carefully or to look for flashlights at night shining through the brambles. 

On an almost weekly basis, she said, a lighted sign for the park is broken, though she’s not sure who’s doing it. 

Railroad clubs that use Railroad Park have also complained about problems associated with the homeless.

Cliff Bundy, neighborhood watch chairman for Aspens, said residents have heard fights and arguments among the homeless. About a year ago, a fight broke out on the Greenway and one of the men was later arrested and was high on “bath salts,” he said.

“It’s frightening to hear it sometimes,” he said. 

More frightening for some of the residents are the instances when some of these people enter Aspens on the Creek, which has posted private property signs. 

“One guy who was acting strangely came through, took off his shirt, and ran through yards,” he said. 

Bundy said all the neighbors participate in the neighborhood watch, though not every incident is reported. 

He expressed his concern before the City Council on Thursday but said he understands this is a pretty big problem to tackle. 

“The city is in a tough position,” Bundy said. 

Medford has been looking for other locations for local organizations to feed the homeless because Hawthorne Park is about to undergo a major renovation. 

At first, city officials said Hawthorne would be completely fenced off during construction, then later said only parts of it would be fenced off. At Thursday’s council meeting it was announced that the city wasn’t sure whether only parts of the park would be fenced off or the entire park. 

Councilor Chris Corcoran, who will be meeting with residents of Aspens on the Creek, said the city asked local organizations to apply for a permit for exclusive use of Railroad Park or a city-owned parking lot for the food giveaway programs. 

Corcoran said the city hoped local organizations would apply for the permit to make sure those receiving the food followed rules and regulations in parks, and the city would provide a portable toilet and police presence if necessary. 

However, no organization has applied for a permit, and the city has no authority to stop organizations that are already passing out free food at Railroad Park, Corcoran said. 

“The Constitution prevents us from doing anything about that,” he said. 

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Jennifer Bagshaw, owner of the Aspens on the Creek mobile home park, shows an area where the Bear Creek Greenway borders her property with blackberry vines. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell