Homeless population in Florence are not illegal campers by choice


(Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on this and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)

Oct. 3, 2018 — While reading the Siuslaw News article “Florence Clarifies Illegal Camping Code” (Sept. 19), I realized that during the Ronald Reagan presidency we lived in an age of trickle-down economics; during the Donald Trump presidency, we appear to live in an age of trickle-down brutality.

The descriptions of the homeless, on page 1 of the article sounded disturbingly similar to the president's descriptions of the “illegal aliens flooding across our southern borders.”

Rapists. Perpetrators of domestic violence. Obstructers of visual clearance.

Ouch.

In the article, Wendy FarleyCampbell was quoted on page 1 saying “once, a few years ago, (there was) even rape” when she was discussing the costs imposed on the city due to homeless campers. During the last few years, was this the only rape investigated?

How many rapes or allegations of rape were lodged and investigated during this same time period concerning people who were not homeless campers?

More than one, I would imagine.

Could it therefore be said that the homeless are less likely to commit rape than our tourists or residents who live in houses? I would not make that supposition; so please, stop the divisive rhetoric. It serves no purpose but to make an already bad situation worse.

When I first moved to Florence, our primary homeless population was middle-aged guys with substance abuse issues — usually alcohol or pills.

This is no longer the case. One night, I visited at the Cold Weather Shelter with a young family of four; we also had a second family with children there that night.

Couples are very common out on our streets now — and in a very disturbing trend, lone females both very young and quite old. I can spot the newly-homeless quite quickly: they have a look of shock on their faces.

I’m a good person, how did I end up out here? their faces say.

On their first morning as a homeless person, they also wake up as a criminal. There is nowhere legal to camp if you have no money in this area, so they camp illegally because they have no choice. And so a bad situation becomes steadily worse, as well as more difficult to escape from.

After spending the first half of the article bad-mouthing the homeless victims who end up on our streets, the article explained that the City has removed the prohibition on camping on public land.

This didn’t make sense to me, so I re-read the whole piece. The article doesn’t mention it, but the change in the Florence City Code was necessitated by a Sept. 4 ruling of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals saying in part:

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Homeless people camping in Florence can stay on two types of land: public or private. We (by the way, I am one of your chronic campers) try to choose public land because there is usually less hassle involved than staying on private land — though it is often hard to tell what is private land and what is public land.

Anyway, the new ordinance specifies that it only applies to camping on private land, not to camping on public land.

If you camp on private land, you either have the owner’s permission or you do not. Camping on someone’s private land without their permission is already illegal — that is what private property means. So there was no need to make up a new ordinance to make behavior that is illegal “more illegal” since it is already illegal.

It appears the ordinance only addresses camping on someone’s private land with the owner’s permission.

The significant portion of the article, then, wasn’t the many paragraphs talking about how horrible the homeless are; the significant portion of the article was column 1 on page 6A (again by Wendy FarleyCampbell):

“This isn’t just to address the tents and things like that; it includes people turning sheds in back into a place to house people, which hasn’t been approved or doesn’t have building permits for that type of use. It isn’t safe … It’s to address a lot of different issues, not just outdoor camping.”

The second significant portion is apparently in opposition to this, columns 5-6 of the same page:

“In July, code changes became effective, allowing for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to be allowed on single-family residential properties, regardless of zoning.”

Now the Florence City Ordinance made sense. It would appear it was crafted in an attempt to circumvent the ADU rules, which are now Oregon State Law (State Bill 1051).

From my understanding, the City of Eugene is now being sued in court for making a similar attempt to circumvent state law.

It would be a shame, as well as a waste of taxpayer money, if the City of Florence chose to follow the same path.

If you wish to end illegal camping in Florence, give us a legal place to camp. We are not illegal campers by choice; we are illegal campers because we have no other choice.

If you want to change the situation, please offer choices that are not illegal; and please, please, stop the denigration of our already-demoralized homeless population.

They don’t deserve it.

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