Council opposes homeless camp

Don't waste your time talking about a homeless camp, porta-potties or bans on people sitting or lying on sidewalks — because we're not interested.

That's the message the Ashland City Council is sending to the Homelessness Steering Committee it created in April to collect and vet ideas for dealing with homeless issues.

Council members previously have said they also are not interested in creating an exclusion zone that would bar repeat offenders from the downtown.

On Tuesday night, a council majority voted not to send ideas for a free legal camping area, portable toilets around town or sidewalk-use restrictions to the Homelessness Steering Committee for analysis.

"I believe free camping areas as proposed are not an acceptable solution and I don't believe the committee should spend time on it," Councilman Russ Silbiger said. "I think it's an invitation, not a solution."

Silbiger said people in Ashland who are homeless by choice and want to remain homeless — or "home-free," as some say — have proposed a free legal camping area.

People who sleep overnight on public property can be cited for illegal camping under Ashland law.

"I believe the vast portion of the community wants to have their minds put at rest that there will be no legal camping," Councilman Greg Lemhouse said.

Most council members said portable toilets around town would be unsightly, although they would consider leaving public rest rooms unlocked longer into the night. Downtown public rest rooms are locked after 4 p.m.

Homeless people are often cited for urinating in public, especially at night.

Council members also were leery of bans on sitting and lying down on public sidewalks.

Along with exclusion zones, sidewalk use restrictions could invite lawsuits.

Although council members are not forwarding those ideas to the Homelessness Steering Committee, that committee could receive proposals for a homeless camp, portable toilets or sidewalk restrictions from other residents, Councilman Dennis Slattery pointed out.

"These things may come anyway," he said.

The committee is tasked with collecting ideas from a broad cross-section of the community, including business people, faith groups, students and the homeless themselves.

However, the City Council has the ultimate authority over whether to adopt any proposals.

City staff members previously researched a range of practices that other cities have adopted to deal with homelessness.

Staff members asked councilors to forward eight ideas to the homeless committee for consideration, without endorsing any of the ideas.

The council voted to forward five ideas:

  • Have a staff person reach out to homeless people on the street to help them connect with services that will enable them to find housing and become self-supporting.
  • Have a person who coordinates all public and private resources in town for people needing help to escape homelessness or avoid becoming homeless.
  • Install donation boxes so that people can help the homeless without giving to panhandlers.
  • Partner with nonprofit groups and volunteers to hold an annual event where homeless people can get medical care.
  • Work with community groups that could create a drop-in shelter and transitional housing for homeless people.

People can submit their own proposals for dealing with homelessness issues.

Proposals must be no more than two pages and include the agency name, if appropriate; contact information for the person submitting the proposal; the specific issue to be addressed by the proposed action or project; the proposed solution; brief background of the submitting person or group; and estimated costs and funding sources, if appropriate.

Proposals may be submitted at any time, but they must be received no later than June 1. Proposals can be e-mailed to or mailed or delivered to Ann Seltzer, Ashland City Hall, 20 E. Main St., Ashland, OR 97520.

All submitted proposals will be public documents and will be posted on the city's website at

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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