Ashland council votes to keep ban on camping

ASHLAND — The Ashland City Council voted against lifting the city's camping ban Tuesday and also voted against a last-minute proposal to begin studying homelessness in early January.

All council members except Eric Navickas voted against Navickas' proposal to enact an emergency ordinance that would suspend the camping ban.

"This is going to be continue to be a conflict in our community," Navickas said after the vote.

"We're going to continue to be in conflict with our community, we're going to continue to violate human rights — the right to sleep."

Council members David Chapman, Kate Jackson, Greg Lemhouse and Russ Silbiger said they felt the camping ban was appropriate and that the city should address homelessness another way.

"I feel suspending the ban is the wrong thing to do," Silbiger said. "Allowing open camping is not in anybody's best interest, especially homeless people who are trying to get out of homelessness — but providing shelter is."

Councilwoman Carol Voisin, whose request to abstain from the vote was not approved by the council, said she believes the city should enforce the camping ban but should provide other services for homeless people at the same time.

After Navickas' proposal failed 5-1, Voisin proposed that the council meet three times in January to study homelessness, instead of only once on Jan. 31. A study session on homelessness and panhandling is planned for that date.

"The issue is complex and I think that we need more time to be together to talk about the issues," she said. "An hour and a half on January 31 is not enough time."

The council voted 5-2 against Voisin's proposal, with Voisin and Navickas supporting the motion. The other council members said they felt the proposal had been made on too short of notice and wouldn't give city staff members enough time to research homelessness.

Tuesday's discussion was a continuation of a Dec. 7 meeting, where council members heard from two-dozen people, most of whom asked the city to stop citing the homeless for sleeping in public places. No more public testimony was taken Tuesday.

Early this month, about two dozen homeless people converged on Ashland's plaza to protest the illegal camping tickets they had received. The protest lasted for more than a week and led Navickas to propose that the city lift its camping ban.

Citations by the Ashland Police Department for illegal camping and trespass have skyrocketed this year, according to a Dec. 13 memo from Lt. Corey Falls to City Administrator Martha Bennett.

Citations for illegal camping and trespass have more than doubled since 2008, when the council enacted the current camping ban. Falls said it's unclear why the citations have risen so sharply, but it could be due to personnel changes and increased officer productivity.

The handful of homeless people at the meeting Tuesday said they were disappointed by the council's vote.

"Still, it's not a surprise," said Tom Crimmons, who has been homeless in Ashland for more than a decade. "I think we need a clear proposal that is not threatening to these people who voted against Eric (Navickas' proposal). There are legitimate reasons for concern but there are also ways to make it work."

Tuesday's meeting was the last for Navickas, who lost his bid for reelection last month, and Jackson, who did not seek reelection. Navickas served on the council for four years and Jackson for eight.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-708-1158 or

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