The list of no-camping zones grew at a workshop last Monday as city councilors struggle to find places for the homeless to stay overnight within city limits.
When the City Council voted in late April to enact an ordinance prohibiting overnight camping in most parts of the city, including a makeshift camp off Necanicum Drive, they delayed the selection of alternate sites. The ordinance, intended to provide options for the homeless, puts in place a permit program for temporary overnight camping in RVs and other vehicles.
Without options, police are limited in their ability to enforce the new rules.
“It’s going to be difficult for the city,” City Manager Mark Winstanley said. “There isn’t going to be a site where people are going to come to you and say, ‘Oh, you found the perfect place.’ It isn’t going to happen that way.”
Vehicles, including vans or motor homes, would need to be registered and in compliance with vehicle insurance responsibilities.
A proposal to move RV parking and tents to areas south of Alder Mill Road and east of public works could handle about 20 RVs and 20 to 40 tents, Police Chief Dave Ham said.
“We can fit many tents in there for people who are using tents as their shelter,” Ham said. “The idea would be to put some Jersey barriers across there so motor vehicles wouldn’t be able to physically go through there.”
But parts of that property are owned by the city and the North Coast Land Conservancy, a natural area that was acquired in 2002 with private and grant money for the purposes of conservation, City Councilor Tom Horning, who serves on the land conservancy’s board, said.
“It’s encumbered,” Horning said. “It’s got contracts with the funders who gave us the money to acquire it. And we can’t redefine the usage of the property without their permission.”
With saltwater and freshwater ponds, Horning said, the success of the Neawanna River as a salmon hatchery is “unparalleled.”
“Basically, it’s one of the greatest salmon factories that you can have on the Oregon Coast,” Horning said. “You get twice as many bird species as any other place in the county. Just because it’s open and natural doesn’t mean it’s a wasteland or anything that could be converted into some more urban usage.”
The Mill Ponds is already off the list of permitted sites, he added, as camping on public parkland is prohibited in the ordinance.
City Councilor Dana Phillips asked the city to take all residential areas off the list of potential overnight camping sites.
“I really have apprehension about having any camping in a residential area anywhere,” Phillips said. “I really have a problem with the fact that after driving through Portland and seeing what is happening in neighborhoods, that it’s going to get out of hand.”
Winstanley proposed a look at the contract with Recology, which operates the recycling center on land owned by the city. That space could be used for campers.
Other options could come through the purchase of property or a building.
“There will be an obstacle or two with every piece of property that we are looking at,” Winstanley said.
City Councilor Tita Montero suggested possible incentives for property owners to sell or lease to the city. “I would like people to maybe think about what kind of arrangements or enticements the city is willing to offer to some private landowner who might want to get involved with the city in this endeavor,” she said.
Montero also proposed a centralized location, possibly with the help of agencies such as Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and Clatsop Community Action. “I think it would make it much easier if they can go to just one place,” she said.
The workshop ended with more questions than answers, including the structure of the Mill Ponds deal, the availability of the recycling lot and potential sites for purchase or lease.
“In the interim, what temporary steps could we take as a council to be able to respond by the time the ordinance goes into effect?” Mayor Jay Barber asked.
The city could hold another workshop before the City Council meeting on May 23, with additional information about available land or buildings and property or lease contracts on potential sites.
“We need to do something now to make sure that we have access for our homeless people to go this summer during tourist season,” Phillips said. “We as a city must take a stand and get something done on a short-term basis. And I would love it if the county would work with all of our cities and come up with a property somewhere in the county.”