A perennial problem

It's a semi-annual event as inevitable as the changing seasons: Jackson County sheriff's deputies sweeping the Bear Creek Greenway for homeless campers.

It's a perennial problem, and one with no real solution.

Deputies contacted 18 individuals and located numerous campsites Monday, some occupied and some vacant. Deputies told the people they could be arrested and their belongings confiscated if they were still there 24 hours later.

Such operations are old hat to police and to transients. And their effectiveness, unfortunately, is temporary.

Campers pull up stakes and move on, but they have to sleep somewhere, so they set up camp in another location. Deputies have more pressing priorities than patrolling the Greenway every day, so eventually the campers return, only to be rousted in the next sweep a few months down the road.

Camping is prohibited by law along the Greenway, so campers can be arrested, but not held for long.

Police refer transients to shelters in the area, but many avoid them. Shelters strictly limit the number of nights an individual can stay, and enforce other rules such as prohibiting alcohol.

Some communities have tried setting up areas where transients can camp without breaking the law. But concentrating people in tent cities raises issues, too.

Sanitation is a concern. Rules have to be established to prevent conflicts between campers, or to settle disputes when they do arise.

Coping with those challenges takes organization and money, which local governments do not have to spare.

Even if the money could be found, providing shelter for people who don't want it or won't comply with rules and regulations can be an exercise in futility.

The only alternative is periodic sweeps such as the one taking place this week. Deputies said they wanted to clear out camps before warmer weather brings more people out to use the Greenway, increasing the likelihood of conflicts with transients.

The good news, such as it is, is that crimes against law-abiding Greenway users are rare. Public complaints about encountering homeless people on the Greenway arise because people feel unsafe, although other parts of the area actually have higher crime rates.

Still, the situation is far from ideal. Trash and human waste left by illegal campers finds its way into Bear Creek and ultimately into the Rogue River. And the public ought to be able to enjoy the Greenway without fearing for their personal safety, or being asked for money.

So police continue to address the problem the only way they can, knowing they'll be back in a few months to do it all over again.

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