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Medford evicts tent city

A tent city for the homeless in Medford’s Hawthorne Park is history.

Medford police made good on a 24-hour eviction notice posted Monday, removing about 80 tents Tuesday morning and closing the park for 48 hours to clean it up.

“Clearly we can’t have it turn into this,” said Medford police Lt. Trevor Arnold. “We’ve got a 40-yard dumpster filled with soiled trash and other debris, and this was the stuff left over after everyone left.”

The camp, situated on the east side of the park, sprang to life after the Almeda fire raced down the Interstate 5 corridor from Ashland to the border of Medford.

A volunteer group of local residents provided food, first aid and other resources for the camp.

At last Thursday’s City Council meeting, some residents called for the camp’s closure while others asked for compassion for homeless people who have also been affected by the fires.

Some of the people displaced from the park sat across East Main Street, watching as officers and about a half dozen patrol cars made sure nobody entered the park.

Arnold said the park would be closed for 48 hours to throughly clean it and to repair bathroom doors and electrical wiring that had been damaged. The park was remodeled several years ago at a cost of about $2 million in an effort by city officials to change its seedy reputation.

Arnold said 36 people left of their own accord Monday when police and social service organizations gave people options for where they could stay, including at the Jackson County Expo, the Kelly Shelter and a city-sanctioned urban campground in north Medford that currently has 35 tents.

“We offered people rides to The Expo,” Arnold said. “No one was forced to leave yesterday.”

At about 7 a.m. Tuesday, officers showed up ready to enforce the eviction notice, but it was a tense morning that led to 11 arrests.

Among those arrested was Jefferson Public Radio reporter April Ehrlich, who was lodged in Jackson County Jail, charged with interfering with a police officer, resisting arrest and criminal trespass. On the arrest log Ehrlich’s legal name is listed as April Rosemary Fonseca. She was released on bail Tuesday.

By noon, the park had been mostly cleared out.

Arnold said crews will be cleaning up human waste and other debris before the park is reopened.

Hazel Werfel said she volunteered at the Hawthorne Park camp because, “I am a human person who wants to help other people.”

Werfel said she’s not part of any “antifa” group, but as a Jew, she said she’s anti-fascist.

“Antifa is not an organization, it’s about anti-racism,” she said.

In fact, she said, “There was a man with SS tattoos and a [President Donald] Trump sticker, and we were treating him. I was perfectly civil to him, and he was perfectly civil to me.” The SS was a military branch of the Nazi Party in Germany before and during World War II.

Contrary to rumors, the homeless people living in the park were from Southern Oregon, and most were displaced from their previous camps in Talent, Phoenix and other local cities because of the fires, she said.

“Every single member in Hawthorne Park had lived here,” Werfel said. “They were residents of the Rogue Valley.”

She said she doesn’t understand why police keep saying that used needles were a major problem in the park.

“I never found one,” she said.

Werfel said a sense of organization was being established in the camp prior to the police pushing everyone out.

She said people were making food, providing first aid, cleaning up and there was an effort to offer a laundry service.

“I experienced a lot of people there crying with gratitude,” Werfel said.

Brandon Daniel Rush, who had his belongings stacked up next to the sidewalk on East Main Street, said the police started telling people to leave around 8 a.m.

“They were not being nice,” he said. “I was trying to help friends, but they wouldn’t let me.”

The 35-year-old said he was from Klamath Falls and had been living with a relative in Shady Cove before he was “kicked out,” so he moved into the park.

Rush, who said he suffers from involuntary spasms that affect his speech, said he’s OK and will probably go to The Expo, which has temporary facilities for those displaced by the fires.

Rogue Retreat, which runs the Kelly Shelter and the urban campground, has taken in some of the homeless people displaced from Hawthorne.

“We knew this was coming,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat. “We had reserved some places to take in some of these folks.”

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

Medford Police photoMedford police made 11 arrests Tuesday morning at Hawthorne Park when officers evicted campers from the tent city that had been established there over the past week.