By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

A tent recently popped up on the side of U.S. 101 in Harbor and remained there for five days.

John Fletcher, who lived in that tent, said he arrived from Klamath Falls Oct. 12 and set up camp beside the Chetco River Bridge in Harbor to get a job and start over.

Two days after his tent disappeared from the highway, another traveler pitched camp on the boardwalk in the Port of Brookings Harbor.

As of Friday, another tent-camper had joined the first at the port.

The port has no legal means to remove the camper or tent, according to interim manager Kathy Lindley Hall.

“We have already spent 24 hours since the tent went up attempting to address the issue,” she said, “and we have talked with port legal counsel and the county sheriff. It is a work in progress.”

Port staff announced that port commissioners would discuss the problem at a special meeting Tuesday 3 p.m. at the old port office.

At issue is the legality of moving or punishing the homeless for camping on public property since the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with six homeless people from Boise, Idaho, who sued the city in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces.

According to the court, cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the sidewalks or other public areas if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional.

Curry County Sheriff John Ward said he was checking with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association to see what other counties are doing about homelessness in light of the ruling.

“The 9th Circuit Court ruling has our hands tied,” Ward said and added he had forwarded inquiries about the port’s situation to the county counsel to continue developing the county’s stance on homelessness.

Support for the ruling

Father Bernie Lindley of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings said he supports the ruling.

“People were already sleeping in public places, but they had to sneak around to keep from getting caught,” Lindley said. “Hopefully, this ruling will encourage communities like ours to seek out better options for homeless people to sleep, places that have restrooms and garbage service.”

Lindley hopes the decision will motivate Brookings City Council to be more proactive in addressing the issue, perhaps by donating a parcel of land on which people can erect tents or build tiny homes.

Curry Homeless Coalition Director Beth Barker-Hidalgo said she agreed with the court’s ruling as well because it highlights the lack of services available to people experiencing homelessness.

“Often these actions result in municipalities taking a look at the big picture,” she said, “and conducting research to identify cost-effective, evidence-based programs to serve the most vulnerable of their population.”

Speaking Thursday at a Gold Beach Housing Forum, Hidalgo said the national trend is toward harm-reduction or housing-first models that take the homeless “with all of their baggage” and offer them safe housing first before dealing with their personal issues.

In Grants Pass, Debra Blake has sued the city because she claims to have been repeatedly told to “move on” by the police and has been fined for sleeping in public and illegal camping, according to the Oregonian.

“By punishing the acts of resting, sleeping or seeking shelter in public, without providing any legal place for most homeless people to conduct such activities, Grants Pass effectively punishes the status of homelessness,’’ attorney Edward Johnson argued in the lawsuit.

Johnson is a lawyer for the Oregon Law Center, which is representing Blake.

The Pilot was unable to reach Johnson for comment.

RV issues

Two to three RVs, a scooter and a camp in the shrubs daily rim the north side parking lot at the Chetco Community Public Library.

Library Director Julie Retherford said the library was getting its share of complaints about the homeless camp.

“Libraries are historically warm and welcoming places,” she said. “But the community is worried, and some people have expressed fear about sending their children to the library alone.”

The library is working with Brookings City Manager Janell Howard and its legal department, according to Retherford.

She said, “We are trying to figure out what we can do without running afoul of the law.”

John Yost, who complained to the county earlier about transient campers in RVs along South Bank Chetco River Road, said campers were returning there and abandoning vehicles and leaving trash.

“I haven’t seen such a mess in all my life,” Yost said. “And now I’ve been told ‘they are protected.’ How can some judge in California, 500 miles away, tell us what to do in another state?”

Yost said he spoke to the sheriff’s office, County Administrator Clark Schroeder and County Commissioner Tom Huxley about the vehicles and trash on South Bank, and all indicated the homeless were protected now.

Schroeder said with the issue arising in multiple areas, he had asked the advice of counsel and he, as well as law enforcement and code enforcement, were waiting to see what can be said or done about people camping on public lands.

Huxley confirmed speaking to Yost about the issue multiple times and said he will raise the issue at the Nov. 7 county commissioners meeting and request options from county counsel.

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