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Expanding exclusion zone not enough

The Medford City Council has agreed to expand the downtown exclusion zone to include the Jackson County Courthouse — but not other government buildings as requested by county officials. The 5-3 vote reflected doubts about whether the existing exclusion zone is effective in reducing unwelcome behavior.

Those doubts are well-founded, not least because the request from county officials was a result of the original exclusion zone prompting homeless people to move across Oakdale Avenue to the courthouse. As Councilor Kay Brooks pointed out, there is no guarantee expanding the zone won't simply push the behavior problems farther away.

The exclusion zone ordinance allows police to ban individuals from the downtown zone for 90 days for offenses including drunkenness, sex offenses, criminal mischief, graffiti, failure to control dangerous dogs, public urination, harassment, menacing and theft. Individuals must be cited to appear, arrested or otherwise taken into custody before they can be excluded.

City officials can hardly be blamed for trying to address the behavior problems that pose public health and safety issues. But expanding the zone to address problems that resulted from creating the zone in the first place seems to be asking for more of the same. Short of locking up offenders to get them off the streets, exclusion ordinances succeed only in moving the problems from one place to another. And the county jail doesn't have enough space to hold even those arrested for more serious offenses.

County officials originally had asked for the zone to encompass the Justice Building, the Juvenile Justice facility and the District Attorney's Office. Now that the zone includes the courthouse but nothing beyond, it will be interesting to see whether those other county buildings see an increase in problem behavior.

Ultimately, more access to long-term shelter for the homeless is needed. The city is working with a number of local agencies to provide funding and housing opportunities, including the Hope Village tiny house project, among other efforts. But the community as a whole can do more. The continuing presence of homeless people in public spaces downtown — and the bad behavior that ultimately ensues — is evidence that the job isn't finished.