(Update: Adding video, poll)
'Bend does not need to become like Portland, Seattle or San Francisco,' ex-mayor says
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A new nonprofit calling itself the Bend Humanity Coalition announced Friday that it will press city councilors and officials to remove homeless camps from public property and discourage such campsites by any legal means of enforcement necessary, for the safety of those residing there and the community at large.
The organization said in a news release that it "plans to work toward a more humane, safe and responsible approach to homelessness." It said the group formed in the wake of the deaths, over the summer, of two men living in a homeless camp on Hunnell Road in Bend.
“It is inhumane and unsafe to encourage people to live on the streets and other public property in Bend,” said attorney Jeff Eager, a former city councilor and mayor serving as a consultant to the coalition.
“The Bend Humanity Coalition exists to demonstrate to city leaders that these camps are unacceptable to our community; that it is not ‘welcoming’ to our neighbors experiencing homelessness to create an environment in which they perish on our streets; that homeless camps, while most dangerous to those who live in them, also create risks to surrounding property owners and residents and reflect poorly on our community.”
The Bend Humanity Coalition said it will begin reaching out to community members inviting them to provide input on homelessness issues to the Bend City Council and other relevant governing bodies.
"This approach will focus on the need for the constitutionally compliant enforcement of existing laws and ordinances discouraging camping and other dangerous activities on public property to accompany the Bend community’s unprecedented investment in services and alternative sleeping arrangements for people experiencing homelessness," the announcement said.
Eager added, “Bend does not need to become like Portland, Seattle or San Francisco, with a large, permanent homeless population sleeping and dying on public property. We have a choice about whether we as a community will tolerate and condone unsafe homeless camps. The Bend Humanity Coalition exists to give the broader Bend community a voice to impact that decision for the benefit of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and everyone else in our remarkable, compassionate community.”
A letter the group is urging residents to send to city councilors reads, in part:
"There are legal limits to what the city can do to remove homeless camps. That is not an excuse to do nothing. The city does no one, least of all people experiencing homelessness, a favor by encouraging and facilitating camping on city property. Instead, the city should use the considerable legal authority at its disposal to make clear that camping on city property is unsafe and unlawful, and to steer people experiencing homelessness toward services and living spaces that are more humane and more safe."
On another page of the website, the group states:
"The provision of services and housing options must be accompanied by a fair and loving but resolute enforcement of the law. City Councilors have at their disposal the legal methods to remove camps that pose a danger to those living in them and those who find themselves near them. There are laws against littering, public urination and defecation, public intoxication and drug use. When those activities occur, whether in homeless camps or elsewhere, the city must enforce them. We cannot allow our streets to become the site of chronic lawlessness. We’ve seen how that ends up in other cities. No one wants that for Bend."
(Oregon has no law against public intoxication, and local governments are prohibited from passing such laws.)
The Bend Humanity Coalition said more information can be found at the organization’s website: www.bendhumanitycoalition.org.
The coalition's formation comes amid a controversy over the city's proposed managed campsite near two northeast Bend schools, after the city's earlier removal of a homeless camp of vehicles parked along NE Emerson Avenue. A similar dispute arose last year over a similar city proposal at the city-owned Juniper Ridge property, an idea that was later shelved.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature passed and Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation that curbs camping regulations and protects homeless campers on public spaces.
House Bill 3115 says any city or county law must be "objectively reasonable as to time, place and manner" if it regulates "sitting, lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outdoors on public property." It mandates that cities pass ordinances to protect people from fines and fees for camping on public lands, if the local government isn't providing adequate viable alternatives.
The new state law followed a 2018 U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case Martin v. Boise that barred governments from criminalizing living in public spaces if local governments aren't providing enough shelter beds for each homeless person.
Eager acknowledged to NewsChannel 21 that he's not privy to the legal advice city attorneys have given staff and councilors on the issue and the legal limitations on their actions. And he said the new state law appears to codify the 9th Circuit ruling.
"It’s true that the Boise decision does restrain cities in the 9th Circuit from some enforcement measures," he said. "Our point is that it doesn’t preclude all."
As for the city's proposed managed camps, still in the early stages, Eager said, "At least at this point, we don't intend to establish a position on them."