Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Sept. 5 @ 4:11 p.m.
Curry Commissioners Say They're Seeking Someone With 'Lived Experience' to Enforce New Homeless Camping Regs
Wednesday's Board of Commissioners workshop
Two months after one commissioner called for Curry County jurisdictions to “discuss a solid direction countywide” on when and where people can legally camp, Kirk Nelson suggested they were tackling the issue in the wrong order.
Nelson, a three-year Curry County resident, told the Board of Commissioners last week that he’s a tax-paying citizen and, after being evicted from his apartment, is also homeless.
Speaking at a workshop, Commissioner Jay Trost insisted on getting “our communities together … to have a similar policy across the county.” Nelson said Curry County should establish a shelter or a safe place before enacting camping restrictions.
“Maybe it doesn’t work with your work schedule to be out at 6 a.m.,” Nelson said, referring to the new ordinance prohibiting camping on public property between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. “But even if it does and you get out at 6 a.m., what are you going to do with your tent? What are you going to do with your bag of clothes? What are you going to do with all of your things when you have to go to work? Where are you supposed to put that kind of stuff?”
The Board of Commissioners approved camping restrictions on June 28, right before a July 1 deadline local governments in Oregon had to meet requirements set down in House Bill 3115. Approved in 2021, HB 3115 set restrictions on how municipalities can enforce anti-camping laws.
At that meeting, Trost pointed out that resources in Curry County are limited. In addition with discussing a unified approach to responding to HB 3115, Trost said he wanted to include state agencies such as the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon State Parks.
At last Wednesday’s workshop, Trost’s colleague, Commissioner Brad Alcorn, said Curry County is seeking three new code enforcement officers, one of whom will be tasked with enforcing the new camping ordinance.
The Road Department will tow abandoned vehicles, including RVs, Alcorn said.
“We’re going to pull every resource we can and do everything we can to work within the parameters and guidelines of our state and local regulations,” he said.
HB 3115 was Oregon’s response to Martin V. Boise, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling governing sleeping on public property. The bill required counties to enact policies recognizing the “social nature of the problem of homeless individuals camping on public property” and regulations that are “objectively reasonable.”
In addition to Nelson, last Wednesday’s workshop included participation from Curry Homeless Coalition Executive Director Beth Barker-Hidalgo. Gold Beach City Administrator Anthony Pagano and City Councilwoman Phoebe Skinner also spoke to recent camping regulations within their jurisdiction that was approved in response to HB 3115.
According to Pagano, Gold Beach allows camping in four different areas of the city. There are also stipulations on how far a campsite must be from U.S. 101, Pagano said. There is no infrastructure on those properties, so no restrooms, for example, Pagano said. However, the city’s legal counsel advised against including set hours for when camping is prohibited, he added.
Skinner pointed out that once Gold Beach designates a space where people can legally camp, it can enforce those ordinances. But, she said, those interpretations and opinions on when and where people can sleep is always evolving, which is one reason she and her colleagues decided against establishing camping hours.
Skinner used a hypothetical mill worker pulling a swing shift as an example of why set camping hours don’t work for everyone. She noted that a person’s shift may not be over until after they’re required to get to the designated camping spot. Or, she said, they may have to be out by 6 a.m., but they can’t get off work until 2 a.m.
When Trost pointed out that the interpretation of the mill worker is speculation about further legislation, Skinner agreed. She brought up Blake v. The City of Grants Pass, a 2022 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stating that the act of sleeping in public includes the necessary articles needed to facilitate sleep.
That ruling also stated that subjecting unhoused people with nowhere to go to criminal trespassing charges and fines was a violation of the Martin V. Boise ruling.
“I don’t want the City of Gold Beach to be where the City of Grants Pass was. It’s better to err on the side of caution as to what might be quickly coming down,” Skinner told commissioners, adding that she and her colleagues are being advised by the League of Oregon Cities. “Someone can bring you into the limelight and say, ‘Look at what they’re doing; they’re discriminating against this mill worker.’ That’s just my take on why I was listening to what the lawyers said was coming down the pipes in our federal district court, which is quite on one side of this issue.”
When it comes to the four areas Gold Beach designated as places where the unsheltered can legally camp, it did include an amount in the city budget for abating any trash pickup, Skinner said, though that may need to be altered.
According to Pagano, while he’s not sure if people are camping at those locations, the city has cited someone for “breaking the ordinance” — refusing to camp at one of those spaces.
Barker-Hidalgo argued that removing the time restriction would allow her agency or Brookings CORE Response, to establish infrastructure like port-a-potties, hand-washing stations, waste bins and dumpsters. She praised Gold Beach for putting information about its regulations in a brochure she could hand out to her agency’s clients.
Curry County Director of Operations Ted Fitzgerald, however, argued that it shouldn’t be up to county taxpayers to clean up trash left behind by people who are illegally camping.
Barker-Hidalgo responded that the clients her agency works with do pay taxes, they just don’t pay property taxes.
“There are people we focus on that want to change their trajectory,” she said. “There are other folks that are happy with where they are or who are telling us this is what they want. This is their choice. We understand there might be some mental health and behavioral health issues … that’s outside our scope of work.”
Alcorn pointed out that in Gold Beach and Brookings, code enforcement officers work in conjunction with a municipal court. However, the county’s “resource officer” — the code enforcement officer tasked with overseeing the camping ordinance will work under the sheriff and the district attorney. They won’t be a “gun-carrying police officer,” Alcorn said.
“If anyone knows of a person who has life experiences that would be a really good fit for this community resource officer position, please encourage them to put in,” he said. “Please reach out to them, please let them know about this position because this is a position that could be very impactful in multiple ways.”
Lorin Kessler, president of Neighbor2Neighbor, a Port Orford nonprofit organization that advocates for the homeless, said one requirement for the new resource officer position should be that they have experienced homelessness themselves.
“How can you share and understand the position that these people are in?” Kessler asked rhetorically. “The longer they stay homeless, the more issues they have. These people who come out of it, and some are very well educated, they could qualify for this position. We have two people voluntarily who have come out of homelessness and who are working with our people, and it works wonders.”
Alcorn replied to Kessler by saying that he’d hate to have a candidate who has a background in law enforcement or social work and maybe was a veteran who couldn’t be hired because they weren’t homeless.
“I’ll tell you that I’ll be part of the interview process for this because finding the right fit is critical to make this effective for everyone,” Alcorn said.