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Bend city councilors debate how far – and fast – to go in regulating camping on city property and right of way

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend city councilors returned in a Wednesday evening work session to a tricky balancing act, as they try to decide how fast to move -- and how far to go -- with rules regulating unsanctioned camping on city-owned land.

The councilors spent over an hour discussing the third element -- "how" -- in the possible time, place and manner regulations for unsanctioned camping.

Although councilors had decided earlier to move quickly on drafting these rules, with more direct council involvement, rather than a stakeholder committee and longer timeline, recently appointed Councilor Mo Mitchell said she agreed with some citizens she'd heard from that it was a rushed process.  

"We're talking about the most disenfranchised people in the community," Mitchell said, dismayed by talk of citing people who violate the rules.

"People are asking me, 'Why are y'all in such a hurry?'" she said, later urging helping them with issues such a secure facility, such as lockers, for people to store items if they are required to move.

"I'm having a really difficult time conceptualizing any of this, because we're not talking about support," Mitchell said.

King said, "We're trying to address this (issue) from all dimensions. This is one slice of them," and he promised "deeper discussion" about related issues in coming weeks and months.

Police Chief Mike Krantz said a ticket is "not the long-term solution," and not the first option, more a tool to use "almost as a last resort, the outcome of rules, laws and a community's expectations."

Councilor Melanie Kebler said the camping regulations aren't aimed at getting people out of homelessness, a goal the city and many organizations do consider a priority. "It's more about regulation of behavior, and the expectations of the community while we don't have enough space."

Councilor Tony Broadman noted that a job offer has been made to someone who will be executive director of the new, state-funded joint office with Deschutes County to coordinate efforts to help the homeless find the support they need, including stable housing.

Mitchell and some colleagues said the broader discussion needs to include services to offered, not just rules and punishment. City Manager Eric King noted that the organization REACH provides garbage removal and some other services to the camps.

Mayor Gena Goodman Campbell agreed with Mitchell on the need for discussing supportive services and regulations, but said the collaborative office with the council will be key, "so we can think holistically, how are we helping people follow that rule?" 

Councilors discussed proposed rules regulating sanitation and garbage, fires, and damage to property, as well as a possible square-footage limit on how big each campsite can be.

 So-called spatial footprints of 10 by 10 or 12 by 12 feet which would allow people to sleep and maintain essentials for living while not obstructing the right of way. 

At one point, as the discussion noted existing city codes already touch on many of the issues -- sometimes more strictly -- Goodman Campbell asked Assistant City Manager Ian Leitheiser: "If we're not going to have people out there with tape measures, Ian, what's the point?"

Councilor Barb Campbell explained her views on that aspect of the proposed rules. 

"How can a person camp -- I think that there is one way to look at this as a way to offer better protection for those vulnerable people," Campbell said. "It takes away the idea that someone's living space needs to be neat." 

Councilors discussed the issue of just how such rules could be enforced, while still being respectful to those without a place to go. King said they'll dive deeper into that aspect of the issues at their next meeting on Sept. 7. 

Goodman Campbell asked at one point," Campbell said, "It make me nervous to intentionally create something we won't be able to enforce. I'm afraid that will just mean intense pressure to 'just enforce the code' -- people get really frustrated."

But Kebler said she didn't think it was time to slow down, even if there are aspects that need fleshing out. "This is something the community wants clarity on. I think we need to keep moving forward."

Meanwhile, councilors also got an update from staff on plans to meet their goal of safer north-south and east-west protected bike routes

The primary north-south route would extend from 15th and Knott Road on the south to Empire Avenue on the north and eventually to Juniper Ridge.

The east-west path uses the upgraded Wilson Avenue corridor but would eventually cross the river to bend's Westside. Some transportation bond funding will be used to improve the routes. In Bend, there are 12 key bicycling and walking routes. 

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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Barney Lerten

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