Ashland’s new homeless camping ordinance could become law

ASHLAND, Ore.- Ashland’s new homeless camping ordinance could become law when the city council brings it back for a 2nd reading on December 19th.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Oregon has the second highest percentage of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country, right behind California. Oregon also leads the nation in the number of families experiencing homelessness in the nation.

“This is one of the most profound issues in our state, in our country,” Rich Rohde said.

On December 5th, the Ashland City Council approved an ordinance to regulate homeless camping in the city. It would ban camping near schools and playgrounds, on walkways, or near any fence, trees, buildings, or vehicles. Some Ashland residents say it’s about time public spaces were made safer.

“To ensure a safe, clean and growing economy, this ordinance needs to be approved in an attempt to bring clarity and order to what is clearly an out of control situation,” Trina Sanford said.

“I’m not against homelessness, I think we should provide all the support that we can,” Dan Quinn said, “but I also think we need to look at all the vulnerable populations. In my opinion, the most vulnerable population are children. And so, when you’re talking about enforcement zones and things like that around schools, I think you should take those very seriously”.

The law includes exceptions for camping when there is no shelter space available or if the offender is involuntarily homeless. But some Ashlanders worry the ordinance won’t solve problems, but rather create new ones.

“The only proven solution to homelessness is housing,” Reverend Ainsley Herrick said, “But instead of implementing these proven practices, Ashland is choosing cruel laws that only make life harder for our most vulnerable community members”.

Ashland’s Chief of Police Tighe O’Meara said it’s not the police’s intention to fine every homeless person in the city.

“It is typical that lots and lots and lots of warnings are given out before the tickets start coming,” He said, “It’s not our desire to be punitive, it’s not our desire to take people’s property from them”.

The ordinance passed four to two on December 5th. The city councilors made it clear, it wasn’t an easy decision.

“We have feedback from our community on both sides. Some want this in place yesterday, some want more time. How do you balance that?” Ashland City Councilor Paula Hyatt said.

If the ordinance is passed by a majority again on December 19th, it could go into effect by mid-January. The city council says they hope this ordinance will allow for public spaces to be safer while also allowing unsheltered individuals options on where they can reside.

Rev. Ainsley Herrick speaking against the ordinance during the Ashland City Council Meeting on December 5th.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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