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Tent city in Hawthorne Park creates flash point

A tent city for homeless people in Medford’s Hawthorne Park has sparked outrage from some locals and calls for compassion by others.

The camp sprang to life after the Almeda fire erupted Sept. 8. Since then the camp has rapidly grown with 50 or more tents clustered in one area of the park, which was remodeled several years ago at a cost of about $2 million.

More than 30 people spoke Thursday at a Medford City Council meeting, with some spouting conspiracy theories that many of the tent-dwellers have been bused in from other towns with help from antifa, an umbrella term used to describe anti-facism, or Black Lives Matter, a global movement launched after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin that has gained steam after a spate of recent police violence committed against Black people.

Others said the park was overrun by sex offenders and drug addicts. One man suggested that if the police can’t take care of the problem, vigilantes will.

“I had to stop a woman from urinating in front of my young son,” said Terra Short, who said she has fed the homeless, and claimed, “I had to ask a sex offender to step away from my children.”

Maig Tinnin, who lives close to the park, said the campground has people on hand who help organize it, including having certified fire extinguishers, hand-washing stations and food stations.

Tinnin said her experience at the park is the opposite of the descriptions of those who don’t want the campground.

“There is this bizarre politicization of what’s happening in the park,” Tinnin said.

Nick Hines, a pastor at Family Life Church in Medford, said, “The people who are staying at Hawthorne Park aren’t our homeless population.”

He said there is a “real and imminent presence of [Black Lives Matter] in Hawthorne Park.”

Trinity Ariee, who said she was born and raised in Medford, said the people living in the campground are homeless residents who were displaced by the Almeda fire.

She said she contacted the organizers of the emergency operations center for fire victims at the Expo and found a “passive-aggressive” attitude toward the homeless people living in Hawthorne Park.

“They said this is not a shelter, this is a temporary evacuation spot,” Ariee said.

Someone at the Kelly Shelter told her that to be accepted there they needed to get a referral from the Medford police Livability Team, she said.

Other shelters didn’t want to accept some of those living in Hawthorne Park because of addiction and mental health problems, she said.

“We didn’t want to do this, this was a last resort,” Ariee said.

Those living in the camp have been wrongly accused of being arsonists or members of antifa, she said.

Melissa Mayne, with Compassion Highway Project, suggested antifa supporters from Portland, Las Vegas and other cities have infiltrated the camp.

Mayne said someone at the park had stolen money from her organization, and that she has stopped feeding people in the park because she doesn’t recognize this new group of people.

On a Facebook post Thursday night, she said antifa members are undermining work being done by local community groups including her own.

“This isn’t helping the community, it’s dividing and destroying it,” she wrote.

Mayne did not return phone calls Friday.

Michael Workman, a Medford resident who runs Portal Brewing Co., said a lot of people say they don’t feel safe in the park, but he said he’s had a completely different experience in the park and has gotten to know many of the campers by name.

“All these people with homes and money don’t want them there,” he said.

Victoria Wood said many people she knows have never felt more safe walking through the park. She said many people have volunteered to pick up garbage and help out.

Wood described the camp as “temporary” because so many people have been displaced by the fires.

“We’re living in unprecedented times,” she said. “Why should we deny the same assistance to the houseless community?”

Medford resident Ben White said Hawthorne Park was very unsafe before the park was improved.

“It’s so discouraging to see how it’s gone backward,” he said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler read a letter during the council meeting. “We do not endorse this urban campground,” he said.

Hawthorne Park doesn’t have adequate sanitation facilities, and the impromptu campground has a lack of organizational structure to keep it safe, Wheeler said.

The city has backed several projects for the homeless, including an urban campground at the north end of the city, the Kelly Shelter, Hope Village and the Medford Mission.

“Each of these facilities have had beds and/or tents available this week,” he said.

Medford police have responded to many calls for service at Hawthorne Park, and several merchants have described homeless people jaywalking recklessly on East Main Street.

Medford police Chief Scott Clauson sent an email response concerning the police response to the campground.

“MPD will be conducting a resource fair in the coming days to connect individuals in Hawthorne Park with supportive services and provide information regarding available shelters throughout the Rogue Valley. Transportation will also be offered during this time to take individuals, displaced by the fire, to the Expo, and unhoused individuals to the designated urban campground.”

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

A tent city for homeless people has sprung up since the Almeda fire in Hawthorne Park in Medford. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune