Brookings parks and recreation staff will continue to conduct sweeps through its parks each morning at dawn as it always has to ensure homeless encampments come down for the day.
According to Jay Trost, deputy public works and development director, there haven’t been many unusual issues in city parks since the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that decriminalizes unsheltered people from sleeping on public land was announced in early November.
He said the situation might not change much even though the decision is under appeal, as such court machinations can take years.
Trost told the city Parks and Recreation Commission Thursday night that because Nature’s Coastal Holidays essentially leases the part of the park used for its elaborate lighting display, that area is off-limits to tents.
The court’s decision has many in the community on edge, Trost acknowledged, and some citizens from a group called Brookings Neighbor Watch are patrolling Azalea Park to “keep citizens safe” during Nature’s Coastal Holiday light display that runs through Christmas.
“There are some individuals who are very much out there in wanting to ensure some of the behavior of the homeless is not continued,” Trost said. “The group is doing a really good job of getting information to the police. But you’d be amazed how many things are going on during the day.”
He said in the past month there have been 217 calls — an average of seven a day — to the police department regarding homeless people. At a half-hour per response, he noted, the calls eat into a substantial portion of the department’s time.
But the sweeps each morning have been “pretty effective,” Trost said. “We have not come across a tent up at 7:45 a.m. We’re going to do a really good job of continuing to monitor it to make sure rules are followed.”
City parks are closed from dusk to dawn.
He said the first few weeks in November left many jurisdictions on the West Coast in limbo as attorney’s scrambled to interpret the court’s decision.
“The homeless cannot be criminalized for sleeping on public property,” Trost said of the city’s interpretation. “They can sit, lie or lay on public property and have reasonable accommodation.”
The city has decided that reasonable extends to allowing a tent on public lands but not past dawn.
“They can roll into the park at dark, but by dawn, that tent has to be down,” he said. “They cannot set up structures.”
The state parks department, however, has interpreted the ruling differently, he said, and will not allow any unauthorized camping on its lands.
“I understand this is an extremely tense and divisive topic,” Trost said. “People are interpreting things so many different ways.”
Parks commissioners asked Trost about the alleged harassment of the homeless to encourage them to move on, but he said he hasn’t seen it.
“This isn’t necessarily as much (about) the homeless as it is about behavior,” Trost said. “That’s what it’s boiled down to. There’s the homeless component and the behavioral component. We’re concerned about the behavior. Community norms have to be adhered to by everybody involved. How that’s handled is at the city council’s discretion.”