Beaverton councilors hear comments on street camping ban
No one was neutral about a proposed ban that the Beaverton City Council is considering on overnight car camping.
Of about two dozen people who testified in person for 90 minutes Tuesday night (May 1), virtually all opposed it as unnecessarily punitive to people without homes. The council also received written communications from people who supported it as one step toward resolving a larger problem.
The council took no action on the ordinance, the latest draft of which was presented April 17.
The council continued the matter to when it next meets June 5. Members can pass the ban as is, reject it, or adopt changes.
The proposed ordinance would ban camping in the public right of way — camping is defined as setting up a temporary place to live — but require police to issue a 72-hour written warning to a violator for a first offense.
Police would be authorized to tow vehicles only if a person has received a city ticket for violation of the ban within 30 days of the current violation.
Maximum penalties are a $100 fine and 30 days in jail.
The ordinance also would enable police to order cleanups of illegal campsites and store personal belongings for at least 30 days, unless items are unsanitary or hazardous. Police can keep weapons, drug paraphernalia, and items that appear to be stolen or are evidence of a crime.
Officer Mark Barrowcliff is one of two mountain-bike officers who encounter many people on the streets. He said arrests are not the first step by police, and even if police issue tickets for offensive littering, they will dismiss them if a campsite is cleaned up.
"Once we make contact with them, we do everything we can to find the assistance they need — what resources we can provide them — and help them out," he told the council. "This is not about people spending one night in their cars. But sometimes these transient camps get big."
Activity draws complaints
Larry Crepeaux, executive director of the Northwest Fencing Center, has been among those calling for city action. The center is at Southwest 5th Street and Western Avenue, and he and others have complained to police about alcohol and drug use in public, loud arguments and fights, trash dumping and other activities.
"Homelessness is not a crime," Crepeaux said. "But there are other things happening 50 feet from our doors."
He was preceded by Steve Sherman, who said he was homeless — "you can hear it straight from the horse's mouth" — and not by choice.
"I just can't afford a place anymore," he said, after losing a job and being unable to find a new one because of his age.
"If I could, I would not be out there. There's nobody who wants to be out there."
He opposed the ordinance.
"Steve is a good guy trying to make the best of his situation," Crepeaux said, "but not everyone is like him."
Theresa Volkmann, a fencing center board member, said, "It boggles the mind to see how they can live that way."
Jason Voylar also spoke for the ban.
"We are not asking them to be punished," he said. "But we do not want to be punished by their decisions, either, and that is exactly what is happening."
Opponents speak up
But most who testified opposed the proposed ban.
Keith Haxton said he was without a home for a year and ran up big penalties from his time in Ashland, which has had a similar ordinance since 2015.
"With this action, you are making it harder on homeless people," he said. "You are criminalizing the behavior of people when they have no choice but to do it."
Among the opponents were several students from Beaverton High School, where the is a Club Hope to help homeless students, and at least one teacher, Rita Morgan.
"These are people we should be trying to support," she said. "I respect and admire their perseverance — and (we should) not criminalize them."
Beaverton School District led Oregon in 2017 with 1,522 students in unstable housing, according to an Oregon Department of Education report. The district goes beyond city boundaries and has three times the city's population.
A panel of students from Sunset High School, also in the Beaverton district, opened the council hearing with their own slide presentation on the issue.
The panel — Natali Banducci, Owen Johnson Green, Bridgette Skiba and Eathen Smith — was invited to do so by Council President Lacey Beaty.
Members concluded that as an alternative, the city should arrange for a designated parking lot where people can stay overnight and feel safe, have access to restrooms and trash disposal, and seek services. It's modeled on the St. Vincent de Paul program in Eugene.
"Banning car camping will not solve the problem," Green said. "It only moves it around."
(Note: This is a revised version with added material and quotes.)