Bend city councilors recommended changes to the City's houseless camp removal in public right of ways at their meeting Dec. 15. The City approved a policy for removing a camp on Emerson Avenue in June, but the council tailored that policy just for the Emerson camp. The policy changes proposed during this month's meeting can be targeted more broadly and come after analyzing what happened on Emerson.
The policy adopted in June set benchmarks for declaring camps unsafe and for their removal. Fire hazards, accumulation of trash, calls for police service, public urination and impeding on roadways could all be cited as reasons for deeming a camp unsafe. The City required giving at least two weeks' notice to people occupying camps and required coordination with service providers before removing a camp. Under June's rules for Emerson, the City also required the storage of any confiscated property for at least 30 days for retrieval.
- Jack Harvel
- Camps line both sides of Emerson Avenue in Bend last summer. On June 2, the Bend City Council adopted policies that set criteria for the camp's removal.
The new policy retains many of the provisions of the previous policies for Emerson, but not all of them. Now, the City must provide a two week notice to campers on a site deemed unsafe and a 72-hour notice to service providers for emergency campsite removals for smaller camps with fewer than eight people. The City manager determines whether a camp is declared unsafe or whether one gets relocated due to an emergency. The City Council will no longer approve camp removals, but will get a notice, just like service providers, when larger campsites with eight or more people are scheduled to be removed.
"The information that staff is giving us says to me that we need to allow them to take charge of implementing this policy," Bend City Councilor Melanie Kebler said in the meeting. "I think there's been a lot of good efforts made since this policy was originally written, was brand new, had not been used before, and when we were a little warier of how it was going to work. I like the improvements that have been made to it; I wouldn't make any changes except that we allow staff to implement the full policy without coming back for a council meeting."
City Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell added a stipulation to the policy that factors in whether a camp is removed due to a lack of services available.
"It seems fairly punitive to me to them because somebody doesn't have a place to go to the bathroom, then that is grounds for removing the camp," Goodman-Campbell said. "At the same time I understand completely the environmental and public health challenges provided that are the result of that, so I was trying to figure out how we could make changes to the policy to basically acknowledge that those are not the primary reasons why we would have to move somebody."
Goodman-Campbell also stressed that the City isn't seeking to remove any camps, and that a single violation won't likely lead to a camp closure.
"The policy has a lot of factors and the overarching language of the policy and intent of the policy is no single factor would be determinative, it's supposed to be a policy and a determination that looks in the cumulative and comparative of the presence of many of these factors," said Elizabeth Oshel, an attorney for the City of Bend.
City Councilor Megan Perkins closed the discussion on the policy by stating that removing camps isn't a long-term solution to address houselessness.
"There is simply no place for these campers to go, there is no shelter space and by just sweeping a camp, it's simple stalling and it's a real vicious cycle for those that are experiencing houselessness. It causes trauma, service providers lose them and it really only provides temporary relief for those of us who are lucky enough to have shelter ourselves," Perkins said. "I'm going to wrap this up with a public plea, if you don't like what you see, help us find a shelter—say yes, and that's the only way you'll see change here. Otherwise, we're just kicking the can down the road."
Precedent for camp removalsRemoving people from camps is a challenging prospect, with a relatively recent settlement in a case against the City of Boise, Idaho, factoring into how local governments in the West can manage them. The 2018 Martin v. Boise case by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals effectively stipulated that municipalities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances when no other shelter is available. The plaintiffs in the case included a number of people experiencing homelessness in Boise, who argued it was unfair to adjudicate them when they had no other place to go.
"The settlement represents the efforts of hundreds of homeless citizens of Boise who were prevented from accessing overnight shelter to sleep due to a disability, limited shelter capacity and shelter policies," said Howard Belodoff, associate director of Idaho Legal Aid Services in a press release from the City of Boise. "The settlement requires the City to focus on services rather than the far more expensive punishment in the criminal justice system and incarceration in the Ada County Jail." As a result of the case, Boise endeavored to spend over $1.3 million in adding new shelter capacity in the city.
Bend and Redmond have made similar strides over the past year, with the opening of the low-barrier shelter run by Shepherd's House on Second Street in Bend, and the recent opening of a converted motel, run by Bethlehem Inn, in Redmond.