Ashland’s Conflicted City Council Tightens Restrictions on Public Camping
Tuesday marked the start of a more restrictive homeless camping ordinance. Not everyone on Ashland’s city council was fully confident in their effectiveness, however.
These new regulations will tighten where people aren’t allowed to camp. These restrictions will include 100 yards away from any river or stream, a 150-foot buffer between other large campsites, and a firm 250-foot restriction on camping near freeway entrances and exits, other shelters, and schools. There are more areas included where the unhoused are not allowed to sleep, such as schools, sidewalks, a number of parks, and other similar areas.
The City Council approved the prohibitions 4-2. Staff were directed by Mayor Tonya Graham to begin working on creating a map showing unhoused individuals where they’ll be able to sleep within the city. What this looks like for the future remains to be seen, as not everyone was very confident with the ordinance’s effectiveness.
The Road to the New Ordinance
This ordinance didn’t come out of nowhere. Ashland had been seeking to update its camping restrictions for a while now. Talk about it didn’t truly become serious until November, when a new homeless shelter was opened. It was soon after that that they would draft a new ordinance that would put some tighter restrictions on camping. These limits also involved select fines and punishments for those who violated the ordinance. The explanation for such punishments was to urge homeless individuals to take refuge in a shelter when beds were available.
Just like with the ordinance we have now, there were council members divided on this draft as well.
Things were added and dropped from the draft, but these changes were going to happen no matter what. Ashland had been wanting to update its camping limitations in order to align with state and federal mandates that regulate homelessness. There are other cities and counties within the Rogue Valley that have been making their own laws around homelessness and camping, too. Everyone is trying to align with these mandates and are going about it in their own ways. Ashland had theirs, but it came with some hesitation.
Not all of Ashland’s city council members were on board. Councilor Bob Kaplan was fairly outspoken about his opposition. His big issue rested with how complicated the language was in the new ordinance, making it difficult for homeless individuals to understand just where they could sleep. He urged for more affirmative language, the kind that would make it clear just where homeless individuals could or couldn’t sleep. He also expressed his desire for ways to help them connect with social service professionals, which would assist people in coming out of homelessness.
Councilor Eric Hansen also had his reservations. He was troubled that the Ashland Police Department had drafted the ordinance without the input of housing and human services, as well as the homeless community in general. Hansen had wanted to stall the changes for another six months so he could have that input, but those who were for the ordinance were of a very different school of thought.
The main concern from supporters was that deferring the changes for even longer would only slow down the ultimate goal, which is to find housing for the homeless.
Councilor Dylan Bloom was one such supporter for the ordinance. He claimed the goal was to focus on solutions instead of spending endless hours (and tax dollars) talking about the ordinance.
So, now the restrictions have passed. Things are already in the works, and so we’ll get to see if the councilors are really serious about tackling housing for the homeless.