Livability teams, social organizations outreach to homeless on greenway

MEDFORD, Ore.– Livability teams with the Medford Police Department scanned the length of the city’s portion of the Bear Creek Greenway Wednesday looking for homeless camps.

The goal was not to rustle the homeless from their temporary homes but help them get in touch with resources and update them about the developing situation with Jackson County’s reopening.

Since the pandemic began, the county has allowed the homeless to set up camp on the greenway as a method of shelter-in-place. During this time, law enforcement wasn’t citing people for any prohibited camping ordinances.

Sgt. Geoff Kirkpatrick with MPD says in the last month and a half livability teams still provided checkups and gave people a list of resources they could call in regards to COVID-19. With the possibility of the county reopening soon though, those ordinances will be enforced again.

“We don’t want to just overload the homeless folks living on the greenway with all of sudden one day they’ve got to pick up and go from somewhere they’ve been for a long period of time when they were asked to be there in the first place,” said Sgt. Kirkpatrick.

For the first time since the pandemic began, members of seven organizations like ACCESS, the Addictions Recovery Center and Jackson County Mental Health joined the livability teams in providing outreach and resources.

Kirkpatrick says many of the organizations are renewing their programs albeit with potentially fewer employees than before the pandemic, meaning they want to try and control the flow of people leaving the greenway who will then seek out these programs.

“To use a term that everybody is familiar with over the last couple months we’re trying to flatten that curve,” said Sgt. Kirkpatrick. “We’re not trying to inundate the services that are out there for these folks with all of a sudden it happens at once.”

There are numerous camps just on Medford’s portion of the greenway alone. The livability teams did a headcount on the number of camps in March before the pandemic and recorded about 97 camps. The numbers actually were on the decline as in September 2019 MPD recorded nearly 125 active camps.

Sgt. Kirkpatrick said since their recording in March though, it’s estimated the number of camps has more than doubled the 97 active camps recorded.

“Right now, they’re allowed to be here without anybody saying, ‘Hey, you can’t be here,” he said. “So now they’re all on the greenway.”

That’s why the livability teams want to get a jump on outreach now before they are required to start enforcing again. With so many individuals living on the greenway, the joint outreach with organizations can help spread out the resources over time.

“We’re really focusing our questions on what agencies can help you and trying to find a good fit for the individual whether it’s mental health services, addiction services,” said Sgt. Kirkpatrick.

The department says this type of outreach will continue to happen even if the county reopens by the end of this week. No date has been set on when ordinances will be enforced again.

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