Brookings City Council decided Monday night to let interested citizens take on the task to determine if a homeless shelter or tent city — or something — should be implemented in town, with guidance from the city in regards to ordinances and zoning.
“There are many, many details,” said Councilor Ron Hedenskog. “There are many, many questions. Let a task force grind out the details, and if it needs input from the city, we can do that.”
Forging ahead with the endeavor is the first step among many to come after a special work session with church leaders and mental health, veteran and homeless advocates last week. The problem reared its head last September after the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled it unconstitutional to cite or arrest anyone sleeping on public property if they had nowhere else to go.
The council ultimately agreed to form an ad hoc committee with a non-biased participant to select members from stakeholders in the community that could use city staff for advice as needed to craft a solution. Hedenskog was voted to be the city liaison.
The first few meetings of such a committee, however, the council wanted to be informal — not requiring minutes nor being open to the public — so participants would be comfortable bandying about ideas.
Councilors, however, said they wanted to entertain other ideas besides the primary one discussed at the work session, in which supporters would like to create a shelter with services similar to those at Hope House in Medford.
“I thought it’d be a brainstorming session, rather than a (specific) direction we were going down,” said Councilor Brent Hodges. “It seemed like we were taking the homeless shelter in Medford and applying it to Brookings. I’m hoping a task force could vet other ideas out there.”
“The direction of conversation was quickly steered toward a shelter or tent city — some physical area to house the people — because of the people who chose to speak,” said Mayor Jake Pieper. “Most in the faith community didn’t comment much at all. On one hand, I understand, but I’m a little disappointed. I was hoping to hear from people we don’t usually hear from, and mostly we heard from folks in the business of helping (others).”
Medford has set aside a small area in town on which tiny duplexes were built where homeless people could sleep and store their personal possessions. A vital component of Hope City is a central service area where people could get assistance to find work, obtain mental health and addiction help and other necessities — and eventually, permanent employment and housing.
Hope City residents pay a small fee to live there that increases over time.
Councilor Bill Hamilton wondered how successfully a small town like Brookings could take a big-city prototype and make it work.
“The bottom line is this will take money,” Hamilton said. “This will take time. We need to use haste but be realistic about where the money’s going to come from.”
“This task force — if you want to call it this — has one task to do,” Hodges said. “It’s one task with a lot of parts.”
Councilor John McKinney also wanted to know how many tent cities or homeless shelters established in the state have failed and why.
“The task force — for me — is a must, because I need more information,” McKinney said. “I want more information about the Medford program. I also want to dig down and learn about the shelters that are closing for some reason, find out some of the negatives. It seems that as many close as open. Most aren’t working.”
Brookings-area resident Bill Farrell suggested the council place a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they even want such a facility in town.
“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” he said. “Let the people decide.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .