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Medford police target bridges in year's first Greenway sweep

Medford’s section of the Bear Creek Greenway is multiple dumpster loads cleaner this week following a trio of cleanups targeting bridges.

In the first Greenway sweep of 2021, Medford police, city staff and volunteers removed 70 cubic yards — the equivalent of more than two 22-foot dumpsters — of trash Wednesday and Thursday from camps under bridges crossing 10th and 12th streets and beneath the Exit 27 on- and off-ramps, according to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.

Budreau said the debris cleared away was not anyone’s property, but “very obviously trash” such as soaked and soiled bedding, broken bike parts, spoiled food or beverage containers.

“Anything of value we will hang on to,” Budreau said.

When police make contact with campers during the sweeps, Burdreau said, police “work to establish” what belongs to the camper.

“Those are cooperative conversations — they’re not adversarial,” Budreau said.

Police targeted bridges for the cleanup because recent court rulings have impacted the way police enforce prohibited camping. Camping beneath a bridge remains a clear trespassing violation under the city’s municipal code.

“There are some things that are against the law, and one thing is being under bridges,” Budreau said.

Campfires beneath bridges can potentially damage the bridge. A campfire beneath the Highway 62 overpass caused damage to nearby fiber optic lines to the tune of $100,000 last summer, Budreau said.

“It’s something that’s causing us some concerns,” he said.

No citations, arrests or other enforcement actions occurred Wednesday and Thursday during the daytime sweeps, according to Budreau, and no one was asked or told to leave the area during last week’s cleanup; however, during the sweep the Medford police livability unit connected four homeless campers to the city’s authorized urban campground.

The amount of trash cleared away along the Bear Creek Greenway rose 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to Medford police. Budreau said the increase is linked to a rise in the number of homeless camps along the Greenway.

Budreau said that the police department’s efforts to balance the rights of homeless people with rights of affected property owners often leads to frustrations from the general public.

“We get asked, ‘Why are you allowing this to happen?’” Budreau said. “We’re definitely in this rock and a hard place, but we’re doing our best to keep it clean.”

Budreau described the city’s authorized urban campground as a start to sheltering homeless people, but not every homeless person an officer encounters is open to staying at a shelter.

“Not everybody wants to take advantage of them because they do involve some rules,” Budreau said. “We know that drug addiction and alcohol addiction is a big factor in this problem.”

Another underlying issue is that property owners with land on the Greenway — whether it’s the city, Jackson County, ODOT or a private property owner — have “different rules of engagement with the residents of the camps and the resulting trash,” according to a quote in a Medford police press release attributed to Deputy City Manager Kelly Madding.

“We’re working with our state and local partners on a unified strategy to address these challenges,” she stated.

Budreau said the police department is waiting for guidance from city leadership surrounding a proposed camping ban along the Greenway this summer, along with guidance from the city attorney surrounding recent federal court rulings such as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the City of Boise, Idaho, in 2018 that bars cities from making camping illegal, or Blake vs. City of Grants Pass, which prohibits cities from fining people for living outside.

In the meantime Medford police will continue working with ODOT and the county to remove mounting trash, according to Budreau, with their focus being on access and the right-of-way, and the city will continue its outreach efforts with Rogue Retreat, the Medford Gospel Mission spearheaded by the police livability unit.

Since July 2020 the livability unit has referred 312 homeless individuals to the city’s urban campground, 60 to the Kelly Shelter and helped 62 find other housing. During the same period, livability unit officers made 33 arrests or citations.

“There’s no one size that fits all,” Budreau said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Medford removed more than 70 cubic yards of debris during cleanups along the Bear Creek Greenway last week that focused on two Medford bridges and the Exit 27 overpass pictured here. Medford police photo.