Curry County Attorney John Huttl will present county commissioners today with three options to address homeless camping problems that have cropped up since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in early September that citing or arresting them for doing so was “cruel and unusual punishment.”
County commissioners meet today at 10 a.m. in the Courthouse Annex on Moore Street in Gold Beach.
The court said people without shelter can sleep on public property if there are no shelters available. In larger cities, they can sleep on public property if all the shelters are full. Curry County has one shelter, in Gold Beach, which is reserved for victims of domestic abuse. A second men’s shelter in Harbor closed last year.
In Brookings and elsewhere, the problem has become 24/7, with many saying the issue has reached a crisis point. An average of six tents — a couple of which take up a few parking spots — and two vans are parked at the Chetco Community Public Library every day.
Library patrons and employees are complaining about the homeless’ use of alcohol and drugs and using restrooms to bathe. Other transgressions to which local police have responded are even more egregious, prompting the library board, Brookings police and the county to try to address it before someone is hurt.
The first option the county could use, Huttl explained in a memo to commissioners, could involve prosecuting people for trespassing during daylight hours.
“Nevertheless, before removing any homeless camp, the county must post 24-hour notices at the location of the camp and must inform local social service agencies that provide shelter and other services to the homeless,” the memo reads. It did not elaborate which services those might be.
A second option could be to use ordinances already on the books that regulate the use of property, which could prohibit overnight camping.
“Those ordinances have force of law, (but) the process to enforce them could be considered criminal,” Huttl said. “Therefore, before enforcing them, county administrative officers should follow the same procedure as (in the first option).”
He noted, too, those ordinances are “typically” only enforced during the day and restrictions cited in the court decision would not apply. However, restrictions under state laws could.
A third option could be to use a non-criminal option and remove trespassers by obtaining a court order, which involves using court authority to handle a problem.
“Prior to enforcing trespass laws against homeless individuals who are camping overnight on public property, the sheriff and administrative officials should check with shelters to see if beds are available,” Huttl said. “If no beds are available, overnight campers cannot be criminally prosecuted.”
Sheriff John Ward said all this means law enforcement will have more hoops through which to jump.
Under a county order, people sleeping on public property cannot be cited from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. — unless they are committing a crime.
“But if they’re there in the day after they spent the night and say, for instance, the port posted the (24-hour) notice that it’s not legal to camp here in the daylight and they won’t leave, that’s trespassing,” he said. “All is not doom and gloom. We just have to be careful.”