Editor note: this is a satirical analysis of a very serious problem.
Death threats, lawless behavior, roaming dogs, abundant litter, public defecations and daily sexual assaults… this is not the set of Mad Max 2, this is Ashland Oregon. A terrifying trend has infected our community. A recent information campaign has brought to light the horrifying impact the hordes of homeless “travelers” are having on quality of life and the safety of citizens and visitors. These wandering bands of nomadic, homeless men are harassing and intimidating on a daily basis and the citizens and police are paralyzed to stop it.
At the Ashland City Council listening session, members of Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and bed and breakfast owners shared their terrifying stories of rude behavior, hedonistic practices and complete lack of respect for authority.
Sandra Slattery of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce warns that uncontrollable mobs, “sexually harass young woman every day and create fear in people. This is not about homeless, this is about a chosen lifestyle.”
“Why do we allow people who do not live here to take advantage of us?” laments Slattery. Why do we allow this abuse?”
Cynthia Rider,executive director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival verifies the danger for youth, especially young girls. “I have a teenage daughter and walking through downtown with her, she is often sexually harassed, even when I am with her.”
According to Rider, this harassment happens four or five times every day. “So she is growing up in her community that will tolerate constant harassment of young women…. She’s been flanked on both sides by two young men, one in front one in back, taunting her. Luckily nothing happened beyond this because she was able to get away.”
According to repeated testimony, Ashland is NOT a safe community for tourists, visitors and citizens as Rider explained in terrifying detail about an attack on a visiting student group,”On the way to the theatre, one of the street people grabbed my student and jumped on his back and rode him like a horse.”
Over 390,000 visitors attended plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, all subjected to possible attacks, intimidation and extortion according to OSF and Chamber officials.
Ashland is no longer safe for citizens and employees according to Cindy Bernard, President of the Ashland Chamber Commerce who fears the confrontations she faces at work in Ashland. “I’ve had my way blocked, when I’ve asked them to move I’ve been yelled at, called every name in the book…It feels very unsafe since I am there all alone.”
According to testimony, it has gotten so bad that Chamber members are no longer letting their children go downtown alone.
Francesca Emery, Ashland Chamber member and owner of the Bayberry Inn is used to being accosted and screamed at, but fears the influence it is having on her children. “Drugs being offered to my friends downtown, my kids. I don’t feel safe with my 11 and 14 yr old, they come home and tell me about a new friend they met downtown, a transient.”
“How bad does it have to get? People are afraid. The damaging, threatening and abusive behavior displayed by these individuals who choose to be home free on a daily basis in Ashland need to be addressed.” asks Katharine Cato, Marketing Director Ashland Chamber of Commerce.
Pam Hammond OSF board, Chamber member shared her daughters’ tales of assault and intimidation. “I have my fair share of downtown horror stories. Some of the harassment I have been the recipient of has been … downright threatening, transient to me on the phone ‘hey have you talked to your boyfriend? I’m going to kill him up so you’ll fuck me instead.’ For ignoring these advances I’ve been called a bitch more times than I can possibly count.”
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara acknowledges there is a problem and little he can do about it. “Yes, there is a real problem with people directing inappropriate language toward women, and even young women. We have been hearing about this for a few a year or so now, and it seems to be increasing. Unfortunately there is little we can do about it as this is considered protected speech.”
Even Ashland City Councilors are not immune to the threat. For daring to stand up to the menace, councilor Stefani Seffinger recently received death threats, relating how she was approached by four homeless people downtown and told, “We know who you are and we want you dead.”
“We think of ourselves as good citizens.” explains David French, owner of Griffin Creek Roasters. “I feel threatened when I go downtown…I say can’t help you and they accost me verbally.”
Tourists, investors and homebuyers should be careful if considering a visit to Ashland. According to one customer in line at Paddington Station,“We were going to move here but we changed our minds. This is not what we want to see.”
According to Trina Sanford, “I go to the grocery store with my children and I hold them tight because there’s homeless there … and when I don’t give them money they yell, they scream.”
“My father has shoveled human feces off our property into garbage bags. He has been physically threatened.” shares Sanford. “Awhile back I had a transient man that I must have upset taunt me at Rite Aid. I watched him, he jumped on my car. An employee of Rite Aid had to pull him off my car. I used to go to the plaza with my friends, we don’t allow our children to do that. Its sad, it’s pathetic…”
Ironically, the folks who are screaming the loudest are part of the problem. The region’s high unemployment, low wages and lack of affordable housing exacerbates the economic disparity. As explained by journalist Deb Vanpoolen, “When I observe Ashland’s tourist economy in context of the global population, I find Ashland neither ‘friendly or respectful’. Ashland’s theaters, trinket shops, hotels and restaurants are a picture of the following embarrassing statistic. The US is 5% of the world’s population but uses 25% of the world’s resources.”
Brigieta Balsimo, spokesperson for all street folks explains, Ashland is ground zero for a new culture war. “You must understand that this is a mentality, This is a rebellion. a movement against everything American society has produced… People are changing, The world is in revolt “