Since You Asked: Homeless camping is tricky issue
Hey, if the city is providing a tent city, then why are so many huge communities of tents popping up in Hawthorne Park and along the Greenway under the viaduct?
— Rufus, Medford
We got your question after running an article saying the Urban Campground run by Rogue Retreat in Medford needed donations of tent canopies to replace ones shredded in a recent windstorm.
The city of Medford does provide some funding for the campground, which shelters about 100 people. But the supervised campground isn’t a walk-in space for anyone who wants to pitch a tent. People who stay there are generally referred by the Medford Police Department’s Livability Team.
People caught using drugs or alcohol at the Urban Campground are asked to leave. Many people choose not to go there because of addiction, according to Medford police.
Not everyone who is homeless struggles with addiction or mental health issues. Some are working or retired but can’t find or afford housing. They often try to live independently and under the radar in vehicles or tents.
Aside from the Urban Campground, other homeless shelter options in Medford include the Hope Village of tiny houses, the Kelly Shelter and apartments.
The Urban Campground and Kelly Shelter — a traditional dormitory-style shelter with some rooms for families — are rarely full, according to police.
Those who do stabilize their lives while staying at the campground or shelter often have difficulty moving on because of the shortage of transitional and permanent housing in the Rogue Valley, police say.
During dangerous weather conditions, the local nonprofit ACCESS can open an emergency weather shelter if it has enough volunteers to staff a shelter. Churches can also open their doors to homeless people for overnight stays if their buildings comply with fire codes. Those temporary shelters often draw in homeless people who are reluctant to use options like the Kelly Shelter and Urban Campground.
Medford doesn’t enforce its prohibited camping ordinance during severe weather events, according to city officials.
The MPD Livability Team helps homeless people access resources like mental and physical health care, addiction treatment, food, housing and other needs.
Medford police do sometimes conduct cleanup operations, also known as sweeps, at homeless encampments along the Bear Creek Greenway, in Hawthorne Park and at other sites.
Homeless people are first offered services. Then a warning is posted that the site will be cleaned in 72 hours, allowing people time to gather their belongings and leave. Trash and encampments are then removed on the cleanup day, according to police.
If there aren’t enough shelter beds in a community, court rulings limit the ability of cities to remove tents and force homeless people to move along.
Courts have said people can’t be punished for sleeping outside if there’s nowhere else to go.
Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.