Homeless Camp

The North Bend City Council will take some time before approving a camping ordinance in an effort to get more feedback from the public.

The camping ordinance is being created to say when, where and how homeless people can camp in the city. The ordinance is needed after a court order and a new state law require cities to allow the homeless to camp on public property. Cities are allowed to control the time, manner and place camping is allowed as long as the rules are "reasonable."

The city of Coos Bay recently passed a similar ordinance that outlaws camping on residential zones, along Highway 101 and in city parks but allows camping on public property in most commercial districts outside of downtown.

The North Bend ordinance has some similar proposals with camping forbidden in residential zones, public parking lots, parks, in the downtown district and along Highway 101. Camping would be allowed in commercial zones throughout the rest of the city once the ordinance in approved. As currently written, the ordinance would allow camping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

City Planner Chelsea Schnabel said camping would be permitted on private property with approval of the property owners in all zoning districts.

Schnabel said the North Bend ordinance does not cover the airport because that property is managed by a different governing board.

"Each individual public entity is going to be responsible to determine for themselves which of their properties are open to the public and, if not, to manage that," Schnabel said.

When the council began discussing the issue, Mayor Jessica Engelke recommended the council move slowly in an effort to allow the public to have more input.

"We're still in the middle of COVID, and we can't have citizens come to the meetings," Engelke said. "I think it's important to have public input. Do we have some time to not approve this and wait until we get out of COVID?"

The answer is yes and no. Without a city ordinance, the state law would kick in that allows camping on mostly any public property. To control when and where camping is allowed, the city would need to pass an ordinance.

"We need more feedback, and we're not able to get the community involved right now," Engelke said.

Engelke said the council is pretty much in agreement on the time and manner for camping, but that leaves the big question.

"It's the place, that's the elephant in the room," Engelke said. "Until we come up with some places in the community, I'm at a loss. The good news is we do have time on our side."

Councilor Eric Gleason said the COVID threat is not going away soon, saying the council may not be able to get in-person feedback.

"If you're looking for public comment, there are a variety of ways to do it without putting a bunch of people in the room," Gleason said.

Councilor Pat Goll said the state has left the city in a hard place.

"I think the further we've gotten on this discussion, more and more people have come to us and said that House Bill 315 was forced on us," he said. "It's the law. I don't want to rush in anything. We have to come up with a plan."

The council Schnabel is the city had a requirement to set aside a certain amount of space for camping. The answer, again, is unclear.

"There is no set requirement," Schnabel said. "I think a lot of these things will be worked out in the legal system. We just want to make sure we are being reasonable."

Councilor Susanna Noordhoff said the city should look at different answers long-term.

"I wonder long-term, because our land is so restricted, if we can look at doing a shelter," she asked. "It's a difficult call, but it might be worth explaining."

While the council agreed that could be an option in the future, Milliron warned a shelter would never be enough to outlaw camping. With an estimated 600 to 800 people expected in the city within five years, no shelter will be big enough.

Schnabel suggested the city do an online survey to get public comment, a move the council agreed with. But Milliron said the survey needed to be specific because few people want homeless nearby.

"We've gone to newspapers, we've gone to TV, we've used our social media, and everything we've gotten back is not in my backyard, not at my business," Milliron said. "I can't tell you how many calls I've taken."

The council agreed the key question in a survey should be about place, likely giving residents several options to consider.

Noordhoff then suggested creating an ad-hoc council committee, saying she and Councilor Bill Richardson would be willing to serve. Gleason said that was a good idea, but suggested the survey continue.

"You do the survey to inform the ad-hoc group," Gleason said. "You won't need a survey after that point. A good functioning survey does a lot to inform the committee."

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