Brookings-Harbor High School seniors Nathaniel Barnard and Brig Scofield outlined their thoughts on the local homeless issue Monday at the Brookings City Council meeting.
The two teens noted that they have no opinion on the issue, but selected it to study as part of their College Law and Politics and the Constitution class. They are studying the case of Martin vs. the city of Boise, Idaho, in which homeless people maintained that laws forbidding the unsheltered from sleeping outdoors on city property amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and violated their Eighth Amendment rights.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last fall agreed, in part saying, “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
The decision rippled up and down the West Coast and previously hidden homeless people came out of the gullies, underpasses, canyons and bushes, erecting tents — and sometimes, entire camps — on public and highly-visible locations.
“As a class, we drafted an ordinance to give you an idea of what some high-schoolers think,” Barnard said. The document defines camping, designated sleeping areas and times in which sleeping on public lands could be permitted.
To make it illegal to camp, the two students said, a municipality must provide a legal place for homeless to sleep.
“There must be a place that’s legal to reside, if you want to make other spaces illegal,” Scofield said. “There does have to be a place set aside for people without homes.”
The two noted the issue came to a head in Brookings when about seven campsites were established at the Chetco Community Public Library, where some of the homeless were seen drinking, doing drugs, littering and relieving themselves on the property.
Library patrons complained and the board made new rules to address the problem. The city ultimately had to clean the area after homeless campers were given 72 hours notice to leave. The two noted that Azalea Park has become the defacto sleeping spot for homeless.
Barnard and Scofield noted that there’s been little discussion in the community since.
“We’re not asking for law enforcement to look the other way,” Barnard said. “It’s not the enforcement of the laws, rather than changing the laws to be compliant with this court case.”
“We just heard you guys’ oath of office (swearing in new councilors) to support the Constitution of the United States,” Scofield said, “and right now, it doesn’t.”
Brookings officials are in the midst of addressing a possible overlay in the city to accommodate those who have nowhere to sleep at night.
Scofield and Barnard suggested the various entities involved — the city, county, port and state — should work on a cohesive plan and, at the minimum, designate a place where people can shelter overnight.
City Attorney Martha Rice said the city has not made any changes to its ordinances but has crafted an enforcement directive with the police department and advised them on the court decision so they can carry out their jobs without violating its terms.
The homeless, she said, cannot be criminally cited for violating the city’s no-camping ordinance after dark.
“And in the daytime …” she said, “well, that’s enforced against everyone.”
Councilors congratulated the two students for pursuing the issue as it relates to the city.
“This decision all kind of caught us up in a loop,” said Councilor Ron Hedenskog. “We’re all catching up, but our intention is to comply.”