Council says homeless can’t sleep next to homes
Homeless people will no longer be able to sleep outside next to someone’s house in Medford.
After some debate, Medford City Council voted 5-2 Thursday night for an ordinance that requires a 20-foot buffer between parks and residences where camping or lying down would not be allowed. Also cemeteries would be off limits to camping, though city staff didn’t cite any reported conflicts as a result of camping in cemeteries.
“We are not going to get anywhere by passing these punitive measures,” said Councilor Clay Bearnson, who voted against the ordinance. “It’s not really addressing our underlying issue, which is the lack of housing.”
Bearnson also opposed the ban passed by the council on outdoor camping along the Bear Creek Greenway.
“They outright are criminalizing poor and homeless people,” he said.
Councilor Kevin Stine, who proposed the new ordinance, said he hasn’t found anyone who can say why it’s OK to have a homeless person sleeping close to a home.
“I think safety cuts both ways,” said Stine. “Not one person said why there is justification for someone sleeping 5 feet away from their bedroom.”
The ordinance, which will come back for a second reading before it’s approved by the council, came about because of complaints from people living next to parks who had homeless people camping uncomfortably near their homes.
Police Chief Scott Clauson said his officers and community social service workers go down onto the Greenway and other areas of the city at least three times a week to encourage homeless people to seek help.
He said the combination of enforcement and community outreach is important and necessary.
“Social workers and clinical staff will not go down to certain areas,” he said.
Councilor Michael Zarosinski said he wasn’t sure whether the ordinance would be effective but supported it.
“Clearly if we could legislate good behavior between people, this ordinance wouldn’t be needed,” Zarosinski said.
Councilor Sarah Spansail said the Greenway is much improved since the camping ban took effect over the summer. But she said many homeless people have moved into parks, creating new problems.
Spansail saw this latest ordinance as another restriction on the use of parks in the city.
“While it might be a modest buffer, it’s yet another restriction on the places that people have to rest in our city,” she said.
Spansail said she could understand the motivation as to why someone would want to lie down or rest near a property line. She said property lines provide a wind break in bad weather.
“It would also feel safer to me,” she said.
In other action Thursday, the council approved expanding the ability to allow more car camping options in the city.
Because of House Bill 2006, approved by the Oregon Legislature this year, the city could allow overnight car camping in more locations, including at big-box stores as long as they provide bathrooms and trash receptacles.
In 2019, the city allowed faith-based institutions to have up to three parking spaces available for overnight car camping, but the idea never caught on because of the limitations on the number of vehicles. House Bill 2006 was an attempt to fix that problem.
Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.