With a state deadline approaching, the North Bend City Council is asking the community help it draft a camping ordinance that will provide the time, manner and place the homeless can camp in the city.
North Bend attempted to create a camping ordinance previously, but every draft led to an outcry from nearby residents, so the city stopped the effort while hoping for more guidance from the state.
With state law mandating city’s either have an ordinance in place by June or allow camping anywhere in the city, the council is planning to host at least two public town halls to get feedback from the community.
City Administrator David Milliron told the council what it can do it limited, and part of the town hall process will be to educate city residents on what role local government can play in the homelessness crisis.
“We have to get the public to understand you as a council cannot change homelessness in North Bend, let alone in front of your house,” Milliron said. “This is state law and federal law. So we want to be able to have town halls, we want to be able to educate the public. We know there will be a lot of venting there, but at the end of the day, the goal is to educate, educate, educate, and get folks engaged in a solution.”
During the council work session when the town halls were discussed, Mayor Jessica Engelke read a letter into the record, where a resident asked the council to focus on ending homelessness at every meeting until the problem is solved.
“This here makes it sound like the seven of you can solve homelessness in North Bend,” Milliron said. “That’s just not the case. What we can do in line with federal law and state law, and that’s out time, manner and place. So, we have to come up with an ordinance that is supported by the majority of the public or the consensus of the public. We’re going to try to do that.
“The last time we did a survey on homelessness, this city is split, and I mean divisively split. This is going to be an interesting process to get an ordinance that is objective, enforceable and protects all 8th Amendment rights of the homeless.”
The city of Coos Bay updated a camping ordinance it already had to limit the time, manner and place that the homeless can camp. In Coos Bay’s ordinance, the homeless are allowed to camp on public land in most commercial zones between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The downtown area as well as all city parks and residential neighborhoods do not allow camping.
North Bend originally tried to do a similar ordinance, but an outcry from some business owners caused the city to reconsider. A second effort was going to move the homeless to the parking lot behind the community center, but that also led to an outcry from nearby residents and people who use the baseball field nearby.
Engelke said the biggest question for the council to consider is what it hoped to achieve with a town hall. She said the city had a town hall last year with city officials spending 45 minutes explaining what they can and cannot do, and close to two hours of people saying they wanted the homeless nowhere near them.
Engelke said it would probably take at least two town halls, and Councilor Jenny Jones suggested having break out groups at the meetings. She said the city could spend some time explaining the limits it has, and then have people break into groups to look for solutions.
If potential solutions for time, manner and place are found, they could be presented to the community, with the second town hall allowing more feedback.
Milliron told the council one thing that had to be emphasized over and over is North Bend cannot ban or stop homelessness. Both federal courts and the Oregon Legislature have said the homeless have a right to be in Oregon cities.
“If you want to change the law, it’s not going to be you guys,” Milliron said. “You need to aim your cannons at the Legislature.”
In the end, the council chose two days for town halls.
Monday, February 6, at 6 p.m. at the North Bend Community Center; and
Monday, March 6, at 6 p.m. at the North Bend Community Center.
After the council chose the dates, Engelke said she is working to get the attention of new Gov. Tina Kotek. She said Kotek made headlines on her first day in office when she declared a state of emergency over homelessness. But the declaration only provided resources from the major metropolitan cities, completely leaving North Bend and all coastal communities out.
“We are begging to be a part of the executive order because it opens the cities up to different pots of money,” Engelke said.