Bend to limit homeless tenting beginning in March

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City council members in the central Oregon city of Bend have approved tough new rules for homeless camping that limit where, when and how people can live outside, as a growing number of cities across the state, including Portland, seek camps amid from a The mounting homelessness crisis fueled by the lack of affordable housing and the coronavirus pandemic.

OPB reports that the code change approved Wednesday requires people camping on city lots and public pathways like sidewalks and country strips to move their location 600 feet, or one block, every 24 hours. Camping in residential areas will be completely banned.

To prevent large camps from forming, the new measure also regulates how large camps can be – no more than 12ft by 12ft – and how far apart they must be – no closer than 150ft. Only three camps per block are allowed.

In addition, the code dictates what homeless people can own while living outdoors. Only items deemed necessary by the city will be permitted. Storage of property such as generators and household furniture is prohibited unless for “camping, sleeping, or keeping warm and dry.”

The controversial code change sparked emotional reactions during Wednesday’s meeting — a reflection of similar contentious debates in other parts of Oregon, including Portland, as cities across the state scramble to address homelessness on their streets.

As in other Oregon cities, Bend officials have found themselves in the midst of a heated public scramble over camp sweeps. Bend has come under increasing pressure from some residents to vacate the camps, but the vast majority of people who testified during Wednesday’s meeting urged councilors not to pass the code change, according to the OPB.

Councilor Mo Mitchell, who voted against the code, said he thinks the change “does a lot of harm” and expressed concern it was passed too quickly and would only further criminalize homelessness in the city.

“My concern is that this will lead to heavy police involvement,” Mitchell said. “Police are not trained to understand some of these complexities.”

Councilor Melanie Kebler Kebler, the city’s mayor-elect, said the purpose of the code is to establish some ground rules about what type of camping is allowed.

“Our community has asked for some clarity,” Kebler said. “I think we’re moving to achieve that.”

Previously, Bend had no code in the books regarding camping on city lots. The city could only remove a campground if it was deemed a threat to public safety and had received a 72-hour eviction order, which City Manager Eric King has done multiple times over the past two years, OPB reports.

How the city will enforce the code remains unclear and is not specified in the code. City officials have said discussions on setting administrative regulations will begin in December and last through March.

The 2022 census found at least 1,300 homeless adults and children in central Oregon, and it was found that Bend, in particular, has several hundred fewer shelters than it needs, according to the OPB.

Elsewhere in Oregon, the Portland City Council recently passed a measure banning street camping and establishing designated areas where the homeless are allowed to camp. The measure is expected to come into full effect in 2024.

– The Associated Press