First the good news: The city of Bend is working harder than ever to find better solutions for the city’s homeless.
And now for news that can be good or bad: The Bend City Council will discuss Wednesday a new city policy to remove homeless camps in or near city streets and sidewalks.
The policy is already in place. It was signed just a few days ago on May 28 by City Manager Eric King.
The policy is “intended to address health and safety concerns of both the traveling public and individuals residing or camping on city rights-of-way.” Does it do that the right way? Read on and decide.
The policy acknowledges people who are homeless need places to sleep, shelter and store belongings. And in Bend, there is not adequate space in homeless shelters for everyone. So people set up where they can. In parks. In vehicles. On public property and sometimes on private property.
But “people storing items and occupying tents or other structures at ground level in the street immediately adjacent to vehicle traffic pose an increased street safety risk that is not in alignment with the policies to reduce crashes and injuries on city streets,” the policy says.
Then it gets into the actual policy. It applies to rights-of-way — not other city owned property. Before anything happens, a determination must be made by the city manager that there is an “unsafe campsite.” It can be a threat to public health, safety or the environment. That could involve trash, public urination, crimes being committed, calls for service to the area, if it is near a property that serves children and more.
A 72-hour notice would be required before an unsafe campsite would be cleaned up or removed. State law, ORS 203.079, only requires 24-hour notice. No notice would be required in certain situations, such as if law enforcement officials believe illegal activities are occurring other than camping. Personal property taken from a site will be stored for a minimum of 30 days. Notice would be posted where the property was taken so it can be retrieved.
We imagine councilors may have questions about the policy. That may include how homeless camps at locations other than in rights-of-way will be handled. What do you think of the policy? Tell councilors. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The key issue may not be the language of the policy but how it is used.