Grants Pass holds listening session for new regulations on public camping

GRANTS PASS, Ore.- The City of Grants Pass held a listening session on Wednesday to discuss new regulations related to resting in public spaces.

Last month the Supreme Court ruled in Grants Pass’ favor regarding the city’s controversial homeless laws. The city is now deciding the way it wants to structure its new regulations regarding the time, place, and manner in which people can rest in public spaces, and the city council wants the public’s help in deciding that.

“We will be needing to make some decisions relatively soon, probably within the next couple weeks here so that we will have a temporary plan, at least, in place for when the injunction gets lifted here in Grants Pass and we’ll continue to work on long-term solutions as well,” Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol said.

Folks were invited to take a poll asking which parks are more acceptable for campsites and which parks should camping be considered illegal. Based off the poll, residents voted that Baker and Tussing parks were more acceptable for campsites, whereas campsites should be made illegal at Reinhart and Riverside parks. But some residents said during public comment the homeless population shouldn’t be in any park.

“The citizens of Grants Pass deserve a homeless-free zone. The Bible says if you don’t work, you don’t eat and I’m sick of the coddling of the homeless population,” one resident said.

“We’ve been forced to live with this horrible, indecent way of life, yet we are the taxpaying citizens that keep this town going. Give us our town back, and get these people corralled into an area where they are away from kids, elders and families,” another resident added.

Mayor Bristol and City Manager, Aaron Cubic, say while it is possible to ban camping from the parks, that would create a new issue Cubic refers to as State-Created Danger.

“We don’t have a shelter, other established place for them to go. If we make a rule that bans, you know, basically all the parks, we’ll need to have other places, that might be sidewalks, parking lots,” Mayor Bristol said.

“When we state that ‘this is where you can go,’ there is an additional risk in responsibility associated with the city. If something happened there, there would be some responsibility and ownership on the city part because we told them ‘that’s where to go.’ That’s a little different than, say, just an open recreational immunity that you have in a general park that’s established for just everyone,” Cubic said.

During public comment, other residents voiced their concerns on how the public treats the homeless population.

“Substance use and mental health disorders are not the driving force of homelessness. This is a housing crisis, not personal moral failure and people should not be punished for not being able to find a home,” one resident said.

“They need a place, no matter what. We don’t have – we’re not going to house all these people fast enough; it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to have shelters fast enough; it’s not going to happen. We need a spot for them,” a homeless resident said.

Mayor Bristol says regardless of what they decide, the city will be operating under the current injunction that allows camping in all parks for next 30 to 90 days.

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NBC5 News Reporter Lauren Pretto grew up in Livermore, California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz, graduating with a double major in Film/Digital Media and Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Lauren is a lover of books, especially Agatha Christie and Gothic novels. When her nose isn't buried in a book, she knits, bakes, and writes.
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