Church Homeless Camp

Tents in a temporary homeless camp outside of the Harmony United Methodist Church in Coos Bay.

COOS BAY — Faith groups are being asked to follow in the footsteps of Harmony United Methodist Church when it comes to helping the homeless.

The Homeless Workgroup, composed of area services representatives and Coos Bay city staff, met this week to discuss amendments to Coos Bay’s lodging facilities code. Specifically, the amendments would be for the authorization process and permitting for temporary outdoor lodging. As The World previously reported, Section B of the code reads that a permitted location only allows a maximum of five recreational vehicles, automobiles or trucks, though more can be authorized by the city police chief or fire chief.

City Manager Rodger Croddock, who attended this week’s Homeless Workgroup meeting, explained that the code also requires a distance buffer zone from residences.

“Upon closer examination, no churches fit that so if we stick with the current code it is just not allowable,” Craddock said. “Secondly, the code provided requirements as far as limitation on how many people can camp there, specifically to how many vehicles, and while we do have a lot of people living in vehicles there are a lot in the homeless community who don’t have vehicles. So some ideas will be proposed to change those restrictions.”

The other issue being addressed in these code amendments is the duration individuals can spend at the camps.

“I believe originally there was a short duration time people could stay there,” Craddock said. “The reality is if there is housing available and someone in the homeless community gets a job, it will take them far longer than they could stay there to actually get into a house with what’s available.”

Members of the workgroup are writing the amendments, which will then be discussed at the workgroup’s next meeting before being presented to the Coos Bay City Council for consideration.

Right now from the city’s standpoint, according to Craddock, is that the camp at Harmony United Methodist Church is “working fairly well.”

“We have relatively few complaints, if any, from the neighborhood,” he said. “In part, that is because the pastor and church manages it well. The residents know the expectations and if they don’t meet those expectations they have to leave.”

Calls have been made to the Coos Bay Police Department, which have gone on to be published by The World in the daily police log, but Craddock said the number of those calls are “surprisingly low.” In fact, Craddock compared the number of calls being made from the camp as comparable to calls made from any multi-family location like an RV park or apartment complex.

“If (the camp) wasn’t there, we would expect our call load to go up because these people would trespass or get general complaints,” he said. “Here they have trash services and bathrooms.”

Coos Bay is not the only city with a lodging code that is being made to allow camps like the one at Harmony United Methodist Church. Craddock said the idea actually came from Springfield, though other cities like Medford and Corvallis have codes like this as well.

“There are other programs in California, which has a much greater population of homeless but more funds to deal with it,” he said.

Harmony United Methodist Church pastor, Donald Ford, told The World that on his end the camp has been operating mostly well but with a few ups and downs.

“It’s like any place,” Ford said. “We have an occasional inter-camp disagreement, but as we were told (at the Homeless Workgroup meeting), the calls are down proportionally for the number of campers there and they think it’s going pretty well.”

Craddock added that for now the camp is “the only viable short-term option for many of these people if we don’t want them living on the streets.”

“We are looking for other churches and facilities to help assist,” he said. “There are other faith-based community members contacting churches and requesting a meeting.”

To do this, permits are required. For more information, visit the Community Development Department at 500 Central Ave. in Coos Bay or call City Hall at 541-269-1181.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.