Just After Opening a New Homeless Shelter, Ashland Drafts an Urban Camping Ban

Ashland is trading one thing for another when it comes to addressing the homeless crisis. Swiftly following the opening of a new homeless shelter last week, Ashland officials are now reportedly developing an urban camping ban.

Nothing is concrete just yet; however, members of Ashland City Council met on Monday night specifically to discuss a proposed ordinance that would put restrictions on urban camping. Its focus is to restrict camping on public property in a way that “differentiates between addressing behavior rather than the status of those who are involuntarily homeless”. While Ashland has had camping restrictions before, these changes are designed to restrict homeless from camping in parks, streets, or other “unsuitable areas”, a term that has not been properly defined as of yet. It’s being designed in accordance with new state laws, particularly HB 3115, which was passed in 2021, but was not not put into effect until July of 2023. These laws bar people from sleeping in select public places in general, which can include public benches and the like.

The proposed ordinance does go into detail, explaining that camping can also apply to living in vehicles, and sets rules on when a campsite can be torn down by the city.

There are exceptions. As stated before, the ordinance does take time to put in considerations for those who are “involuntarily homeless”. These people would include those who have become homeless due to financial and health reasons.

That is where the phrase “addressing behavior” comes in. As great as it is that a new homeless shelter has been opened, but to expect that it would be able to take in all of Ashland’s homeless is unreasonable. Because of this, the ordinance is penalizing those who are not taking advantage of shelter beds when they are available.

So, what’s the penalty for violating the camping restriction? Well, besides having your camping torn down (or being told to leave if you’re camping in your vehicle), camping violations are considered a class IV violation, which carries a maximum fine of $250.

This ordinance is fairly controversial, especially the penalties involved. The controversy applies to not only advocates for the homeless, but to some council members as well. Council member Bob Kaplan believes penalizing the homeless with misdemeanors would be counterproductive. After all, an individual with a misdemeanor under their belt is always considered a less attractive candidate for rental housing, currently homeless or not. He believes the ultimate solution should be finding these people permanent housing.

Once again, nothing is concrete just yet. Details on what this ban would look like is still being discussed, including what the penalties would be and where camping restrictions would apply to. The problem is striking that balance between keeping public spaces available to all, while at the same time acknowledging the problems that homeless individuals face when it comes to finding housing and their financial situation. If there is to be a camping restriction, then the city council hopes to get it passed before the new year. When it would be put into effect, however, is still a mystery. Like with HB 3115, it could be another two years before anything is put into effect.

On another note, the City Council is also creating a homeless outreach group, which is known as a livability team, modeled after the one created in Medford. The Medford team has been successful in helping homeless individuals work through housing applications, obtaining IDs needed for gaining employment, and has given out bus passes to those in need.

Ashland hopes to have a team that is on par with Medford’s, and it will be made up of police officers working with community organizations and other city departments. We have yet to see how this livability team will work out in the future, but people have high hopes and are glad that the homeless crisis is actively being addressed in a constructive manner.


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