GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Grants Pass city leaders held a community forum Thursday night to address ongoing homelessness issues in the city and its parks.
“We are trying to protect individuals who live near parks as well as the people that frequent them,” Grants Pass City Attorney Augustus Ogu said.
The city said that the goal of the meeting was to give the public an understanding of what barriers the city faces when it comes to regulating the unhoused population.
A 2022 court ruling said that the city cannot remove those sleeping in public parks.
Because it doesn’t have a full-time homeless shelter, doing so would violate their 8th Amendment rights.
The city is appealing that decision.
Police Chief Warren Hensman said that it was also good to collaborate with the community on this vital issue.
“We need to hear from our community,” Chief Hensman said. “I am a big fan of team, and the community is a big part of the team, we have to work together.”
City officials were able to discuss how they are currently addressing the issue in public spaces.
The meeting also consisted of written questions submitted by the community.
Many asked about safety and getting additional help from the state.
“How do we get the governor to come down for a discussion or get her to understand our dilemma and help us find a solution?” one audience member asked.
When taking office, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek declared a homelessness state of emergency for communities that saw an increase of 50% or more in unsheltered homelessness over the last five years.
Medford and Ashland fell into that category, but Grants Pass did not.
Chief Hensman also took questions about Riverside Park which is closed down for three more weeks after Boatnik wrapped up on Monday.
He said he isn’t sure if other parks in the city will need to close, but added that police will continue to monitor the other parks to see if another closure is necessary.
Hensman said that, so far, closing Riverside Park has been successful in displacing the homeless population that was camping there.
While the city is trying to manage that population, they also reiterated that homeless people, too, have rights.
“It is not American to say that based on your status, that you need to get out of town,” Ogu said.
City officials said that there should be multiple homelessness items on the agenda for the Grants Pass City Council meeting on June 21.
That list could include addressing weapons in parks as well as an update on a permanent homeless shelter.
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