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Car camping offers option for homeless

The Medford City Council is on the right track in considering a proposal to allow overnight parking at local churches for people sleeping in their vehicles. But to make it work, churches or other entities need to get involved and provide toilets and garbage receptacles.

Homeless people run the gamut from individuals on the street with nothing but the clothes on their backs to parents with children living in vehicles and holding down jobs. People who cannot afford rent or cannot find an apartment have few options. The tiny-house community Hope Village is one, but space there is limited.

People who own a vehicle, whether it be a car, a van or an old motor home, are better off than those without one, but must search for places to park at night where they won’t be asked to move or risk being victimized by others.

Other cities have made it possible for churches, nonprofit agencies or businesses to allow overnight “car camping,” subject to a few requirements. Eugene has a successful program, and Ashland city staff is working on a formal proposal to expand the efforts of one church to other willing participants.

The key is oversight by the church, in concert with a community agency that vets applicants.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland has been successfully allowing camping for two years. The church pays for a portable toilet and trash collection. Guests are vetted first by the Ashland Community Resource Center and again by church members. Successful applicants are given one of the parking spots for 30 days, which can be renewed. Priority is given to women, children, families, the disabled and the ill. Guests can park at 8 p.m. and must leave by 9 a.m.

State law limits camping areas to three vehicles, so there is no danger of any one location growing too large.

In Medford, a resident approached the City Council last month to ask for more options for car dwellers, including car camping in church parking lots. The council will take up the matter in a study session next month; in the meantime, churches and other organizations with available parking spots and a desire to help should start making plans to host people in vehicles. It won’t solve the housing crisis, but it’s one more way to soften the impact.