Roseburg says no to idea of homeless camp

Establishing a legal campsite for the homeless does not interest the Roseburg City Council and Mayor Larry Rich.

"Having a camp like that is enabling, it's not helping anybody," Councilor Tom Ryan said Monday at a council meeting where Occupy Roseburg and other advocates for the homeless pitched the idea.

They said a sanctioned camp would be safer than makeshift camps along the South Umpqua River. Also, they said a camp would help people who don't want to stay in shelters with rules about staying sober and attending church.

Rich said he has not seen evidence from other cities that homeless camps are successful.

"I don't believe that we should have a homeless camp in Roseburg," he said.

Occupy Roseburg has been pushing for a camp for two years. Monday was the first time it has been on the City Council's agenda.

The council spent 90 minutes discussing the proposal and listening to about 10 people with opinions about a camp. Jeri Benedetto of Occupy Roseburg and other advocates left the meeting before councilors and the mayor said what they thought.

In an interview today, Benedetto said she left the meeting because she thought the council was obviously uninterested in the project. She also didn't like the negative comments she heard.

"I was very saddened by the response from the City Council and members of the audience with respect to their stereotypical views of what a homeless person is," she said. "I am saddened by a community that doesn't seem to want to address the issue of folks that are less fortunate in our community."

Councilors did not vote on a camp, but all agreed the city will not pursue the idea.

City Manager Lance Colley said there are beds that go unused at shelters, including the Roseburg Rescue Mission for men and the Samaritan Inn for women and children.

Benedetto said some homeless people don't like rules.

She said the illegal campers are under stress because of harsh weather, persistent police and fear of being preyed upon by others.

"There are hundreds of people camped out illegally in and around Roseburg at this time," Benedetto said.

Councilor Marty Katz asked why people preferred camping illegally instead of following the rules at shelters if having a safe place to stay was so important.

"It's offensive to have to listen to a sermon in order to eat," Benedetto responded.

Katz wasn't satisfied. He said if someone needs shelter bad enough he or she should be able to deal with religion.

Councilor Lew Marks said merchants and homeowners don't like Occupy Roseburg's desire to have a camp downtown.

"That doesn't mean (the homeless) shouldn't be helped, doesn't mean we should turn our backs, but downtown Roseburg, I think is just a poor strategy," Marks said.

Renee Clavell, owner of Occasionally Yours Party Rentals, said residents do not support a homeless camp. She said fewer than 10 out of the 250 people she asked to sign a petition against the project declined.

Others said they were concerned about public safety, particularly having camp residents responsible for running the camp, as Occupy Roseburg proposes.

"That is like inmates running the asylum," Roseburg resident Tom Hawksworth said.

Roseburg resident Ashley Hicks, who has organized a two-year campaign to pick up garbage left behind by illegal riverfront campers, said more than 60 volunteers have removed 14 20-yard bins of trash and that she doesn't want to see more of a mess at an official site.

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