Homeless residents' protest enters fourth day

Homeless residents said they plan to continue to protest police citations for illegal camping for the fourth day today in Ashland's plaza and police said they will continue to cite the campers.

Police cited eight people for illegal camping or trespassing late Tuesday and early Wednesday, according to police reports.

About 25 homeless residents set up six tents in the plaza for the second night to protest recent police citations for illegal camping in Ashland's forests. As many as 40 people, including Ashland residents who are not homeless, participated in the protest Tuesday and Wednesday. The campers have said they intend to continue their protest until they can work out an agreement with the city that involves having a legal place to sleep in Ashland.

"I'm probably going to get another ticket tonight," protester Michael Tierney said Wednesday. "But where else am I supposed to go?"

After police issued some citations early Wednesday, the campers left the plaza area to avoid going to jail, said Tierney, one of the people cited.

Police reports from late Tuesday and early Wednesday show that four people were cited for prohibited camping in the first block of North Main Street and one was cited for trespassing and disorderly conduct in the same area, where the plaza is located. Another person was cited for violating the Lithia Park curfew in the first block of Winburn Way and three people were cited for trespassing at the Main Street Laundromat.

Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said that anyone who is issued an illegal camping or trespassing citation and still refuses to move will be taken to jail the same night. None of the campers had been taken to jail as of Wednesday evening, because they had agreed to move after being issued citations, Holderness said.

"We gave them the option to pack up and leave, and that's what they did," he said.

The protest late Tuesday and early Wednesday taxed police resources and caused Holderness to ask six officers to work overtime, he said. Two undercover officers patrolled the downtown area to try to determine which protesters were camping, he said.

About 40 people were part of a demonstration in the plaza Tuesday night, said participant Critter Satellite.

They started putting tents up in the plaza at about 8:30 p.m., when it began to rain, he said. By 10 p.m. there were six tents in the center of the plaza. Several people also huddled under tarps and umbrellas.

Later Tuesday night, people began leaving the camp to try to stay warm and dry, Tierney said. At 3:30 a.m., police officers began issuing citations to some of the campers who remained, police reports show.

The protesters returned to the plaza area later Wednesday morning and stayed throughout the day.

Congregating in the plaza is legal — but camping is not. Camping is usually defined as setting up tents, sleeping bags or cooking equipment, Holderness said.

An illegal camping citation carries a $142 base fine, and that amount can be increased by several hundred dollars for subsequent offenses, said Ashland police Officer John Perrone. The city lowered the base fine from $362 a few months ago, as part of an overhaul of the city's fees for code violations, he said.

The protest came days after the city released a report that found Ashland lacks a number of social services that would help homeless residents secure jobs or find housing.

Many of the services, including shelters, are available in Medford, but homeless Ashland residents are often unable to access them because of travel and timing difficulties, said Linda Reid, the city's housing program specialist.

One of the council's goals for this year and next is to study homelessness in the city and develop strategies for aiding homeless residents. The council is expected to weigh in on the city report early next year.

City Councilman Eric Navickas, a homeless advocate, said he supported the demonstrators and believes citing them "could be considered cruel and unusual punishment."

The protesters said they are requesting a meeting with city leaders to discuss finding a way to end the cycle of illegal camping and police citations.

"We want to sit down and talk with them to figure out what the solutions are," said protester John Gilmour.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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