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Ashland opens overnight sleeping area for houseless residents

A large, grassy area, about 100 feet across. There are small trees around the border of the grassy area. A low-lying building with a shallow-angle roof is in the background, to the right is a barbed wire fence.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
The small field behind the police station and city council chambers in Ashland designated as the overnight sleeping site.

The City of Ashland is opening a campground for houseless individuals. Opening it will allow Ashland police to enforce a previously paused camping ban.

The city-owned sleeping area will be open from 7 p.m. till 7:30 a.m.

Ashland has a ban on camping in public places, like parks. But, a recent court ruling and state law meant it was unenforceable unless the city could provide a designated place for people to sleep.

Opening a campground will allow the city to enforce a ban on camping in other parks and plazas.

“Basically what we’re doing is we’re getting back to where we were a couple of years ago,” said Police Chief Tighe O’Meara “Where if you’re a chronic camping offender, you’re going to start getting citations.”

City staff have been working on a campground plan for months. During that time, a group of homeless protesters have been pitching tents at places including Triangle Park and in front of the downtown fire station.

The new sleeping area, located on a small lawn area behind the police station and city council chambers, will only be open overnight; guests will need to pack up before 7:30 a.m. every morning.

Guests will also need to follow a list of rules, including those related to space allowances and managing pets. Campers will not be able to have visitors or weapons, and cooking, campfires, illicit or recreational drugs and alcohol will be prohibited.

On the left, an accessible portable toilet, a portable handwashing station is just  to the right. And a small metal dumpster is in the background behind the handwashing station.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
A portable toilet, cleaning station and dumpster have been placed next to the sleeping area. O'Meara said they're all city-funded.

According to a city announcement, police will monitor the sleeping site with drive-by patrols in the evening. If guests don’t follow the rules, they’ll be expelled from the site, and can appeal to city management.

The city added it will use the next two weeks to inform Ashland’s houseless community about the sleeping site before enforcing its camping ban.

Unlike other urban campgrounds, like one managed by Rogue Retreat in Medford, resources to find permanent housing won’t be immediately available. O’Meara said when police interact with houseless residents, they should be referring them to outside organizations that provide assistance for addiction and housing.

Local non-profit Opportunities for Housing, Resources, & Assistance, or OHRA, says it’s looking to fund mobile support in Ashland, but those looking for help now can come to their low-barrier shelter on Ashland Street on the edge of town.

City Manager Joe Lessard was out-of-town, and unable to answer questions about planned resources for the sleeping site in the future. O’Meara said the new overnight sleeping area is just one part of the city’s response to homelessness.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.