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Sheriff Nelson wins 2-1 commission support for strict code to ban most homeless camping on Deschutes County land

(Update: Adding video, comments from sheriff, commissioners)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County commissioners heard from Sheriff Shane Nelson at Wednesday's meeting about why he's proposing strict new county code that would bar most camping on county-owned land. As with any discussion about homelessness, there was some debate and emotions. And commissioners voted 2-1 to advance the proposal to a public hearing.

The meeting at times got noisy, as some in the audience cheered in the sheriff's favor after a couple of exchanges between Nelson and county Commissioner Phil Chang, who expressed his disapproval with the sheriff for requesting the new code (see revised pre-meeting version below).

Afterward, the sheriff told NewsChannel 21, "This camping ordinance would be one more tool in our tool belt, so we can give folks a resource at the same time we're enforcing the law."

The new code would ban most camping on county land, and only allow camping during extreme weather events if directed by county staff.

"We want to do what's best for everyone living in this situation, and we want to do what's best for our community, and those folks who live around these situations," the sheriff said.

After the meeting, I wanted to know how the commissioners felt about what transpired.

Commissioners Tony DeBone and Patti Adair voted to hold a formal public hearing in the near future, with colleague Phil Chang opposed.

Chang explained his position.

"Our community needs to have a comprehensive approach to homelessness. Not just telling people that they can't jump somewhere, but also providing meaningful pathways out of homelessness for those interested in taking those pathways."

DeBone said of the proposal, "It solves a problem we have, which is unsanctioned camping on the perimeter of our community. I think that's the big picture. And we have a lot of bad things happening, as far as people living in the situation and the people living near it."

Adair said, "I'm honestly more worried about our citizens that pay their taxes who that live in the community, that need to know that they are safe."

Chang also cited potentially costly and time-consuming legal action against the county as part of his reasoning to oppose the sheriff's proposal.

But DeBone and Adair say they're not worried about that happening.

"People are all over the map with their opinions, someone is going to sue somebody -- that's fine. This is the discussion," DeBone said emphatically.

Adair told us, "It's the gunshots, the bullets that have went by people's heads. It's the fires that they have started. We actually need to do more."

DeBone says the county has asked state Legislature to help them developing a managed camp site to move folks suffering from homelessness. But he says those requests haven't amounted to much progress.

Chang wrapped up our interview by voicing his concerns.

"This proposed ordinance, in the absence of a comprehensive approach to solving homelessness, does nothing but move the problem from one unauthorized location to another."

DeBone maintained his position.

"If we have enforcement on the backside, then we are moving forward. Let's make it better, lets make tomorrow better than today," he said.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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