'We want to try to make sure that people don't have to camp on a sidewalk or on a public lot, or in a park'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) --The homeless policy in Bend could be changing in coming months, this time as a result of an expected new state law.
The Oregon Legislature passed a bill Wednesday designed to protect homeless people staying in public places.
And on Thursday, the Oregon House passed legislation to add $9.7 million to an emergency shelter fund, through Project Turnkey. The Bend Value Inn could soon become an emergency shelter for the homeless in Bend.
House Bill 3115 would mandate homeless people in Oregon cannot be removed from public places, unless there's an alternative place for them to go. The bill is meant to protect homeless campers in public spaces.
It is in response to a federal appeals court ruling, Martin vs. Boise, that states punishing a person for sleeping or staying outside when there is no alternative is cruel and unusual. The U.S. Supreme Court let that ruling stand, declining to hear an appeal.
State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, voted for the bill.
"I thought it was the most compassionate thing that we could do at this time, based on the Supreme Court decision,” Knopp told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday.
Knopp says the bill, sent to Gov. Kate Brown's desk, is meant to get people off the streets and into safer situations.
"I think we want to try to make sure that people don't have to camp on a sidewalk or on a public lot or in a park,” Knopp said.
The bill states that any ordinance forbidding people from sleeping or staying in public places has to be "objective or reasonable."
"'Objective or reasonable' means that you have to have an alternative place for them to go -- otherwise it's not objective or reasonable,” Knopp said.
He said that an "alternative place" should be the top priority.
"No. 1, you're going to need to create a space for either the city council, county commissioner, or both, create a space where they can go, where they can overnight, where they can rest,” Knopp said.
City of Bend Communications Director Anne Aurand said in an email that "The bill does not apply to the city's administrative policy on removal of established campsites," adopted recently by the city council.
If signed by the governor, the new law would take effect on July 1, 2023. Aurand said any potential application of the bill would wait until then.
However, Knopp says it's not just the city that will need to help make this change.
"Well, I think the pressure is on all of us to continue to work together on a solution -- it's not just cities and counties,” Knopp said. “The state, the federal government, cities, and the community need to engage and work to make sure that we're resolving the issue."
NewsChannel 21 spoke with Bend Mayor Sally Russell as well. She said although she had not fully reviewed the bill, that the city has been following the court ruling closely.
Russell said the city has been routinely ahead of state policies regarding homelessness and is actively working to find a safe solution for the homeless in Bend. She noted that Deschutes County has agreed to provide $1.1 million in matching federal relief funds to work together on identifying a site for a managed campsite for homeless residents.