Safe and legal camping in Lane County. by Pat Farr

 

Lane County Commissioners acted Tuesday to help local homeless people who are living in their cars. The commissioners have faced reality.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to allow overnight car camping on private property in the Santa Clara area, north of Randy Papé Beltline.

While this would be a pilot project, a similar car camping program, called the Overnight Parking Program, already exists in Eugene. The Eugene program, a partnership between the city and the nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, has been operating smoothly since the late 1990s. Last year, OPP helped 81 individuals, and 27 families with 41 children, at a cost to the city of $89,000.

The sad reality is that these are people who will be living out of their vehicles regardless of how the commissioners voted. They just wouldn’t be as safe or as stable — which is particularly hard on families with children. Nor would they have minimal provisions for sanitation.

Eugene’s program, in contrast, provides screening and placement of campers, sanitation, trash pick-up and parking site management at no cost to the host. It also reduces the amount of time police have to spend responding to reports of illegal camping, allowing them to focus on more important law enforcement needs.

Living in a vehicle isn’t a lifestyle people generally choose if they have other options, but it’s a better than living on the streets, often the only other alternative for car campers. St. Vincent de Paul has found that providing a safe, legal place to camp in a vehicle helps families and individual in crisis stabilize their lives and gain better access to services that can help them get back on their feet and into employment.
Eugene is far from the only city that has approved legal places for car camping. For example, Ashland, which has been struggling with soaring housing costs, began a vehicle camping program this year when a Unitarian church stepped forward and offered space.

The number of police citations for illegal camping in Ashland plummeted — from 146 in 2016 to 29 in the first half of this year, the Medford Mail Tribune reported. (Citations carry fines of around $100, and failure to pay or appear can result in an arrest warrant — a heavy price to pay for being unable to afford housing.)

An effort earlier this year to open a homeless camp in a part of Santa Clara that is within Eugene’s city limits, on an undeveloped city park site near the Fred Meyer store, fizzled in the face of neighborhood opposition.

The reality is that whether some Santa Clara residents like it or not, there are already homeless people camping in their area — they just don’t have a high profile.

What a legal homeless camp will do is bring them out of the shadows, improving their safety and making sure they have access to basic needs.

Santa Clara residents will deal with homelessness one way or the other — by paying for law enforcement, trash pickups and other byproducts of illegal camping, or by allowing adults and children to park their vehicles in a legal, safe and sanitary place, making it easier for them to get back on their feet. The latter option makes more sense.

Thank you Register-Guard for this article:  Facing car-camping facts, printed in the November 29, 2017 Register-Guard.

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