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Poverty and Homelessness

Medford Considers Banning Greenway Camping During Wildfire Season

April Ehrlich | JPR News
A proposed change to a Medford ordinance would make it a misdemeanor crime to organize camps in public spaces, similar to one that activists organized in Hawthorne Park in September 2020.

The Medford city council is considering banning sleeping and camping in the Bear Creek Greenway during wildfire season.

Last year, large trees and blackberry thickets in the greenway helped fuel the disastrous Almeda Fire between Ashland and Medford.

So Medford Deputy City Attorney Eric Mitton is proposing adjusting a city ordinance so it would prohibit people from sleeping or camping in the greenway and Prospect Park between May 1 and Sept. 31 — or any time of the year when the fire chief determines that there’s a fire hazard.

The council will first discuss the ordinance during a study session on Thursday, so it won’t take a formal vote or hear public comment until one of its regular council meetings.

The proposal would also make it illegal to organize unauthorized camps in public spaces. A group of activists has been staging camps across Jackson County to bring awareness to its housing shortage. Under this proposal, they could face misdemeanor charges in Medford’s city limits.

Mitton’s proposal would allow people to sleep in some public spaces. This is to align Medford's ordinance with a recent court decision from the U.S. District Court in Medford, which held that Grants Pass was violating the Eighth Amendment for issuing non-criminal violations to people for sleeping in public spaces while using bedding.

Although the proposal would still allow people to sleep in some public spaces while using bedding, they couldn’t set up a tent or a campfire, and they'd have to leave within 24 hours. They’d also be prohibited from sleeping or camping in baseball fields, playgrounds, underneath roadways and bridges, or near railroad tracks. People who violated this rule could face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail.