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Housing Advocates Push Back As Medford Enforces New Anti-Camping Ordinance

Medford Police last week off the Bear Creek Greenway
Siskiyou Street News
Medford Police last week clearing an encampment from the Bear Creek Greenway

Medford’s new prohibited camping ordinance has been in place for just over a week. The Medford Police say they’ve been successfully moving people living outside into shelters. Local housing advocates say otherwise.

At least seven campsites along the Bear Creek Greenway were cleared by the Medford Police last week under a local ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping outside. The ordinance makes it a crime for people to sleep or lie down in public for more than 24 hours at a time.

Supporters of the ordinance say it’s an effort to clean up unsanitary conditions and reduce fire risk along the Bear Creek Greenway, where many unhoused people live.

Jay Hoffman with the Housing Justice Alliance says the ordinance isn’t a solution to that.

“By continuously displacing folks, you know, we’ve heard folks say things like, ‘okay, how can we hide from them this time?’” says Hoffman. “It creates even more fire danger and spread of COVID with people constantly moving and being displaced and having to start over.”

Medford Police gave 72 hours notice before clearing the camps. During that time, they brought resources and social workers to help homeless people transition out of their camps. Medford Police said the people who were evicted “accepted transitional shelter options, or made other arrangements.”

Derek DeForest, a local housing advocate, says the provided options were insufficient.

“So this ‘other arrangement’ seems code for ‘we just pushed them elsewhere along the greenway’ or ‘they’re now sleeping in a parking lot’ or ‘they now have a hotel voucher that they can’t use because they don’t have an ID.’” he said. “It doesn’t sound like much of an arrangement to me.”

DeForest says one man who was displaced from his camp was given a hotel voucher, but couldn’t use it because he didn’t have an ID to check into the hotel. Now, instead of sleeping in a tent, he’s sleeping in his truck.

The evictions also raise health concerns. The National Homelessness Law Center wrote to the city last week, saying the ordinance violates COVID guidelines from the C.D.C. as well as raises constitutional concerns of cruel and unusual punishment.

They also said that because accessible local shelters have several hundred applicants on the waitlist, houseless people don’t have access to alternative shelter.

Previous court rulings say it’s unlawful to prohibit people from sleeping outside without an alternative. They say that because the Kelly Shelter -- the only low barrier, year-round shelter in Medford -- has over 580 people on the waitlist, reasonable alternatives aren’t available.

Although public camping in Medford is now a criminal misdemeanor, no one was arrested last week. But police say these sweeps will continue for months.

Housing advocate Jay Hoffman says they saw people’s belongings being thrown away before bulldozers drove through the camps.

“I’m super grateful that people were not put in jail. But that bar is so low,” says Hoffman. “The fact that people’s homes were just fully demolished. You know, they’re homes, and the police don’t see it like that.”

Medford Police did not respond to request for comment.