Displaced people in Curry County say they are facing new restrictions and an emphasis on enforcing bans on overnight parking that have left them nowhere to sleep.
Signs have been placed at Rainbow Rock and at the Harris Beach State Park rest area prohibiting camping and overnight parking.
A recent survey by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) found the number of prohibitions against vehicle residency has more than doubled during the last decade.
“Much like outdoor camping and sleeping bans, citywide restrictions on living in vehicles may leave no lawful place where homeless people can live in a community,” NLCHP said in a recent report.
Biff Schulz, a local homeless man, said he felt he was facing “class enforcement” claiming nicer and newer RVs were not asked to move on and neither were truckers.
Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Public Information Officer Jared Castle said ODOT had installed signs at six sights on the coast where garbage and hazardous waste including human feces had become a problem because of overnight campers.
The signs state: “No Overnight Parking/Parking Prohibited between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.”
One of those sites is near the Pistol River on U.S. 101 and the other local site is the pulloff near Rainbow Rock north of Brookings.
“100 sites with overnight camping issues were observed,” Castle said. “We placed signs at six places with higher concentrations of garbage, trash and hazardous materials.”
People are being run out of town, according to Jack Armstrong, a homeless man living in an older model Bounder RV. He said the rangers at Harris Beach State Park had also been cracking down on people sleeping in the rest area after the new signs had been placed there as well.
The signs there prohibit camping and limit rest area parking to four hours from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Harris Park Ranger Joe Kerick said, “I am not allowed to comment on that issue,” and referred the Pilot to District Supervisor Larry Becker, who did not respond to voicemails left asking for comment.
Sheri Miller from the Oregon Parks and Recreation information office said they would look into the signs and respond, but had not called back by the end of the day Tuesday.
Oregon State Police (OSP) Sgt. Dave Aydelotte said OSP requested the signs along U.S. 101 from ODOT after numerous citizen complaints.
“People were living at Rainbow Rock,” he said. “Garbage was being left behind and human feces littered the trails to the beach. ODOT was getting stuck cleaning that up.”
Castle said ODOT put the signs up so OSP could enforce the proper use of those areas.
Travelers who pull over to rest are not the issue, according to Aydelotte and Castle.
“OSP officers will knock on the window and check in with drivers at those spots,” Aydelotte said. “Tired drivers will have time to rest or be sent to a nearby rest area.”
Castle said the goal is not to hamper a tired driver who needs a place to pull over and rest but to stop others from repeatedly abusing the space.
CBS news recently reported the number of people who live in their vehicles because they can’t find affordable housing is on the rise, even though the practice is illegal in many U.S. cities.
Armstrong said Brookings police only enforce the city’s ordinance on people who can’t get a place to stay.
“Residents have RVs on the street all the time,” he said. “They are not told to remove their RVs or move on.”
Schulz said he is living out of town now, and although OSP stops to check his site once in awhile, he has not been asked to move on or stop sleeping there.
Citizens have approached him on the street and told him to move, Armstrong said. And when they have called the police, he has been handed a copy of the city ordinance and told to move on.
The ordinance allows sleeping in a vehicle on private property or an RV park but prohibits connecting an RV to city water or sewage, and even if those conditions are met on private property, the RV cannot be lived in for more than 14 days.
According to Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson, the process is complaint driven, and the problem is not people sleeping in their vehicles; it is people not using bathrooms.
Schulz and Armstrong said some homeless people had found safe places to park and sleep outside of Brookings and off the highway.
Some are pulling off the road and sleeping along North and South Bank Chetco River roads, according to Dotson.
Local law enforcement has been polite and professional, according to Schulz and Armstrong, and both said they know they are just doing their jobs.
But both men agree the homeless need a safe place to park and sleep, a place with some organization and a host to make sure it stays clean.
“We need a safe place to park where we won’t get moved out or robbed,” Schulz said. “A place with bathrooms and security.”
Armstrong said, “The rest area worked like that, but they kicked us out.”
Schulz, in a letter to the Pilot, said “There has to be a solution, to somehow create a place that displaced people can use while they get back on track.”
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org