COOS BAY — The Coos Bay City Council’s work session had more than the usual agenda items Tuesday night as citizens filled with vitriol over the homeless problem spoke at the Coos Bay Fire Department Station 1.
Most of the meeting was a back-and-forth argument between locals and city officials, with either side making a claim and the other either affirming or refuting it.
“We’re not feeling safe in our own neighborhoods, at our own homes and it’s just not right and somebody has got to do something,” 52-year-old Mary Brandon said, “Somebody’s got to help instead of turning a blind eye to it and ‘oh, we’ve got to feel sorry for them’. No, we’re past that.”
Brandon is a member of the Empire Neighborhood watch and echoed a lot of the group's beliefs.
“So now you’re going to be having the homeowners and the victims taking these matters into their own hands, because they’re not getting the help that we need. Our city needs to help us,” Brandon said.
After an emergency meeting between watch members, Coos Bay city representatives and the Devereux Center last month, city officials expressed concerns over talk about vigilante justice.
Much like the other meeting, watch members pointed to the Devereux Center as a source of the problem.
Brandon said the Devereux Center is enabling the homeless by providing them with items like tents and blankets.
She charged the center with supplying needles to its visitors, a claim staunchly refuted by both Director Tara Johnson and City Manager Rodger Craddock.
Brandon’s other main contention was that homeless are being bused to the area from other cities.
Some watch members suggested putting the homeless back on buses and sending them to another city, but Councillor Lucinda DiNovo said that would just be pushing the problem somewhere else.
“We don’t want to kick the can to another city,” DiNovo said.
She asked what solutions the group had to bring to the table.
Brandon said she doesn’t know what the answer is, but wants services to stop “enabling” the homeless.
She used an analogy of leaving raw meat out for a bear in the forest. She said if someone left raw meat out every day, eventually the bear would stop hunting.
“It’s just the same with the transients, we keep helping them, they’re never going to help themselves,” Brandon said.
Mayor Joe Benetti said that the city needs a place for homeless to go, like a 100-bed facility. But that would require finding a building away from neighborhoods and subsequently getting funding for it.
“Now if I went out and I said ‘ok, we need a million dollars for a bond issue,” would you all go out and help me push that bond issue to put this homelessness in? It’s a tough push,” Benetti said.
While crime is a huge worry for local residents, Coos Bay Police Chief Gary McCullough said the people going through the jail for thefts aren’t transient, but locals addicted to drugs.
“I’m not going to say they’re not throwing trash in your backyard or in your parks or defecating or urinating and doing all that, because they are,” McCullough said, “But the majority of them are not the ones that are committing your burglaries and your robberies and your car thefts and stuff. Those are unfortunately young adults that we have in our community, that grew up in our community, that have a horrible, horrible addiction that they have to feed.”
McCullough said the transient population victimizes among themselves.
Several times throughout the meeting, city officials reiterated that unless a property owner makes a complaint, the city can’t just kick people off of property.
“It’s just frustrating for us, too,” Benetti said, “Our hands, whether you believe it or not, are tied on a lot of these things because of legalities.”
Benetti suggested setting up a public hearing for the group at a city council meeting.
The group plans to attend the Sept. 19 meeting.