Taking it off the streets
"If it's predictable, it's preventable."
Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris recently invoked that pithy maxim -- originally championed by 33-year California law-enforcement veteran Gordon Graham – to ignite an hour of discussion leading to the city's new approach toward addressing homelessness and its inherent peripheral issues.
During its Monday, Jan. 27, meeting, the Woodburn City Council unanimously passed a pair of ordinances presented as proactive measures to address homelessness. One ordinance prohibits camping on city rights-of-way, and an accompanying one provides for the removal of such camping sites and any accumulated debris.
A third council action authorized the city to enter a two-year agreement with humanitarian nonprofit Love INC for a Severe Weather Center Program. The city would provide $10,000 for the program, which would help provide a safe overnight shelter for house-less persons during severe weather conditions.
A list of stringent criteria must be met by those using the shelter, including no drugs, alcohol or contraband allowed.
City staff worked at an accelerated pace over the previous two weeks to construct the language and iron out the legalities of the proposed ordinances and the shelter agreement. In part, that quick work was prompted by observing problems the region's metro areas, roughly equidistant north and south of Woodburn, as those cities continue to wrestle with mounting homeless ordeals.
"If we wait to address these issues, it will become more difficult, or perhaps too difficult, to wrap our arms around the problems that come from this type of behavior." Ferraris said. "I really believe it is better to be proactive and adopt these ordinances now as opposed to waiting while the problem grows and manifests itself, thereby causing us to be reactive as opposed to being proactive."
Ferraris, who has worked on both the Portland and Salem police forces, admonished the council two weeks earlier that Woodburn is not immune to the issues and eyesores exacted by a swelling homeless population, which have become highly visible in the Willamette Valley's metropolitan cities.
During the first council meeting of the year Ferraris and City Administrator Scott Derickson both advised the panel of the proposals they were constructing, stressing that they are aimed at preemptively dealing with the issue.
Perhaps chief among the expressed concerns surrounding the proposals was location: where would a shelter be established, and could it be in my neighborhood? A parallel concern revealed trepidation about the shelter luring homeless into Woodburn from elsewhere.
The proponents said that partners in the proposal will include some area clergy and their churches. They also indicated that there is not likely to be one set shelter; the shelter site may rotate among partners, perhaps at different churches. The plans also call use of public transportation to convey the homeless in need to the designated shelter and away from it in the morning.
With that format, most shelter users would be referred by public safety personnel, clergy or humanitarian entities such as Love INC.
Several homeless advocates joined the discussion, and all proposal proponents emphasized that the policies are designed to help those in need, not enable those who may exploit the resource without working toward changing their living conditions. The required conditions for using the shelter serve as a deterrent to exploiters.
A Love Inc. representative, Curt Jones, pointed out that even the Union Gospel Mission has similar stipulations, and it consistently has empty beds since many chronic homeless choose not to abide by those requirements, possibly due to their substance abuse.
City Councilor Debbie Cabrales questioned whether the no-camping ordinance, which carries a maximum fine of $250 for violators, would be effective since it's directed at people with modest-at-best means.
"If they are already homeless how are they going to find the resources to pay for a that; what resources do they have to pay it?" Cabrales posed.
Ferraris said the point of emphasis with the ordinance would be compliance. The "campers" would be given a notice. Social services would become involved, and all efforts would be made to persuade them to voluntarily break camp before a citation would be issued.
What: Woodburn City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10
Where: Woodburn City Hall, 270 Montgomery St.
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