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What’s with the huge homeless camp?

Traveling north through Medford on the interstate this morning, I counted roughly a dozen tents along the Greenway between the Little League fields and the south end of the I-5 viaduct. I thought Medford City Council passed an ordinance banning all camping along the Greenway from May until September. Why are people still camping there?

— Robert J., Ashland

According to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, the short answer is that the city is well aware of that section of the Bear Creek Greenway — it even has a street name referencing its ideal location (“paradise”) — but simply hasn’t gotten there yet.

Medford City Council passed a law April 1 banning any form of camping on the Greenway in Medford from May 1 to Sept. 30, or longer depending on the fire season.

So far, Budreau said, the enforcement of the new ordinance has been focused on the area on the north end of the city between Railroad Park and Biddle Road. Seven camps were cleared near Railroad Park in early May, for instance, a job that required two 22-foot dumpster loads of trash to be removed from the area.

Soon, however, the police department will turn its attention to the camps near the south Medford Little League fields.

“We’ve been in contact with those individuals consistently, advising them of the ordinance, in hope of getting some voluntary compliance before we have to physically go in there and start making decisions,” Budreau said. “But we see that it still remains a pretty populated area for camps and we are getting there in the very near future. I don’t want to lock us into an exact timeline but that is our next location that we’ll be addressing.”

Breaking up a camp of that size is more complicated than it may seem, Budreau added.

“These situations are delicate,” he said. “It’s not really a matter of just going in and telling people they have five minutes to leave or they’re going to get arrested. We’re really taking time to connect them with resources, connect them with family members, trying to figure out what their situation is. If there are addiction issues going on, if there are mental health issues going on, we’re really trying to attack that at all angles to get the person resources but to also get them out of that location.

“So it’s just not a fast process, and once we get the individuals removed from the area, then we have to clean up all the trash that’s left behind, which is significant.”

Budreau said the process of cleaning up the area is a team effort that Medford police supervise. At the camp near Railroad Park, for instance, Medford Parks and Recreation, Medford Public Works, Oregon Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Rogue Retreat worked together to pick up roughly 60 cubic yards of debris. Community corrections may also handle some of the cleanup for community service hours.

Budreau said the city typically can restore a “workable section” homeless camp back to its former self in about a week.

“Basically,” he said, “we’ll post it at the beginning of the week, give them time to do the best they can for accommodations. And while we’re posting it we’re trying to make as many contacts as we can with our outreach organizations.”

Police will then check back soon to see if they’ll have to take enforcement action. In the north Medford camps cleared in early May, every person at the seven camps left voluntarily. Medford police are hoping for the same kind of cooperation in south Medford.

“So, usually they’ll be gone by the end of the week, but any that are remaining,” Budreau said, “we’ll figure out what it’s going to take to get them to leave, and then at the very end of the week we’re cleaning the trash up from the area. So that’s a very typical snapshot of a week, but we have to do it in workable sections.”

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com.