North Bend could take its time before creating a camping ordinance to limit the time, manner and place where homeless can camp.
City Administrator David Milliron told the city council during a work session last week that after digging further into the two state laws regarding homeless camping, it is probably best to wait until the League of Cities can come up with sample ordinances that can be used to build a city ordinance.
Milliron explained that during a town hall the city held about the issue, Councilor Susanna Noordhoff mentioned the state laws do not mention RVs as part of the legislation. When city staff dug deeper into the issue, they finally connected with an attorney who is considered one of the foremost attorneys on the legislation.
“Yes, the bill itself does not refer to RVs,” Milliron said. “However, whenever applied, if someone is sleeping in a car, a camper or RV, they are asserted to be camping.”
Milliron explained the two state laws have different requirements of cities when it comes to homeless camping. House Bill 3115 allows cities to set the time, manner and place camping is allowed. It also mandates cities set aside a “reasonable” amount of space for the homeless to camp.
“The more restrictive we are with how we interpret this ordinance, the greater danger we are for litigation,” Milliron said. “That’s the path we were headed down, where after we surveyed citizens where they basically said, not my backyard. For instance, we had put on the drawing board, several parking lots. You will absolutely be sued for bad things that happen in the parking lot, if thats the way you go.”
Milliron said if a lot is not big enough and fills up even one time, cities can be sued. If you designate a single spot and a crime is committed there, the city could be liable as well.
There was some good news from the attorney, though. Milliron explained during the 1960s, many communities adjusted camping ordinances to include sleeping in vehicle. North Bend was one that never made that change.
North Bend has never defined camping as sleeping in a vehicle,” the city administrator said. “He said that’s a great thing. Once you have defined camping as sleeping in a vehicle, you can never go back. He cautioned us to wait until some of these model ordinances are coming out. He said the cleanest way to treat those is through the nuisance abatement. He cautioned us to define camping in a way that omits sleeping in a vehicle. He said you already have existing ordinances in place and abandoned vehicles is a perfect example.”
Milliron explained that while waiting for the League of Cities to create sample ordinances, the city can deal with homeless camping issues by coming up with standards in nuisance ordinances that be enforced equally. One example, is a parking ordinance, that can limit how long and where vehicles can park.
Coos Bay Police Chief Chris Chapanar told the North Bend council the ordinance his city has passed is working well.
“We recently implemented our camping ordinance that continued to allow what’s already being allowed under state law, that’s comping in public places,” Chapanar said. “That allowed us to regulate where homeless people tend to camp under time, place and manner. You have to make sure it’s objectively reasonable to time, place and manner when you’re making your regulations. It allows the city to regulate those locations and also put a time frame on when that is allowed to take place and when it’s not.”
Chapanar said Coos Bay has had little problems with the ordinance since it went into effect.
“It’s working very well. It’s working well for not only the community, but also working well for the homeless,” Chapanar said. “They seem to know where they can camp lawfully and where they cannot. We have a community resource officer who is meeting with these people daily. I believe it’s been a real positive. Without it, there was just no order to what was occurring in our city.”
After meeting with the attorney, Milliron said the staff recommendation to the city council has changed. He said there were three elements to what staff believes should happen next.
1 - Have city attorney work with outside counsel to refine codes to include developing good due process plan.
2- Determine what streets people can rest on in light of Martin vs. Boise.
3 - Wait for the model ordinances from the League of Cities before taking action.
“Based on feedback from the council and overwhelming feedback from the public, we were hoping we would find a specific parking lot or piece of property we could put the homeless,” Milliron said. “We were warned, you could do that, but you will get sued. In your best interest, stick to your public streets. Regulate in the time being with your current ordinances.”
Milliron said the League of Cities has a difficult task creating model ordinances because the issue is different from city to city.
“Here in North Bend, 95% of our problems have been in RVs, so that’s where we’ve been focused,” he said. “You go to Portland or Eugene, they have tent camps, so they’ve been focusing on that.”
“I appreciate that staff took the time to get into the weeds,” Noordhoff said. “We will have a better final product. I think it will benefit us in the end.”
“I’m glad we didn’t get down the path too far and we can reposition ourselves,” Milliron added.
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