Fighting at the food kitchens.
Destroying public bathrooms.
Begging on street corners. Following people.
Even “just hanging out there” has given citizens in Brookings reason to call the city to complain about the actions of some area transients.
“At times it seems that we are under siege with transient-related issues,” City Manager Gary Milliman said Monday, an hour before a workshop to discuss affordable housing. “Virtually every morning brings new calls for police as transients are found sleeping on private property or who refuse to leave when directed to do so by business operators.”
Some won’t let their kids play in the front yard on the days local churches serve lunch for the homeless. Others have reported they feel uncomfortable strolling through Azalea Park.
A woman reported a transient approached her, asked about the contents of her purse and where she lived, then followed her for “some distance.”
Two weeks ago, a fight broke out in the park — just as a memorial service was letting out from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Some citizens believe it’s the free community meals that attract the troublemakers. But the people who provide the meals — a different church serves community lunches each day of the week — say they are not just feeding the homeless, but those on low incomes and people who don’t get the opportunity to socialize.
“The community kitchens are doing their best to serve a need,” said Brookings Mayor Jake Pieper, “but it has brought them (transients) into the city limits.”
Past city hall discussions have never found a solution, either, with suggestions running the gamut from banning the soup kitchens to encouraging them to hold the free lunches at a central location, such as the activity center.
That idea didn’t go over well with any of those who host the meals, with most saying they each have their own way of doing things.
“(Each church) likes what they’re doing, said former Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog, who volunteers at St. Timothy’s every Tuesday. “Where have you ever seen in a city where four or five denominations cooperate to achieve a goal? That’s something to be said. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
He said he believes feeding the homeless generates problems.
“There’s a joke that goes with that,” he said, and launched into a story about a friend of his in Lake Earl who feeds raccoons.
“Last time I heard, there were more than 50 raccoons coming in at night to have dinner,” Hedenskog said. “That’s meant to be a joke, and not a slur against anybody. But I do believe we are contributing to some of the transient issues we have in the community.”
He signed when asked how to solve the issues, and admitted he doesn’t know.
For starters, each church has a free facility in which to cook and serve meals.
“Second, why tamper with something that’s working so good?” Hedenskog said. “The number of us who work in these community kitchens, no doubt about it, we are serving some people who are dangerous. We all understand that. We’ve had good discussions with the police, they’ve given us good instruction, they see there’s a difficult and a good side to this. They want us to be as safe as we can be.”
Ultimately, it comes down to helping the down and out.
“If we help one person and it happened to be the daughter of a mother in Coos Bay and she’s down here and she’s in trouble, did we help that mother in Coos Bay? Yup,” Hedenskog said. “Good is being done and there are difficulties that arise from doing it.”
“There’s only so much we can do,” Pieper said. “At least so far, they seem unwilling to come up with one central location to have the soup kitchens, and I’m not sure how much we’re going to be able to (convince them) to do that. And you can’t force people to not feed people.”