Community struggles with homelessness conversation


At a recent “listening session” Mayor Stromberg and city councilor Stef Seffinger hosted, Cynthia Rider, Executive Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a board member of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said she lives in fear of homeless people. “I have a teenage daughter and walking through downtown with her, she is often sexually harassed, even when I am with her. And she is surprised that I am upset, because she says that it happens 4-5 times every day. She is growing up in a community that will tolerate constant harassment of young women.”


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Department Of Justice affirms Homeless Rights

A court case in Boise, Idaho is bringing national attention to the issue of homelessness and the right to sleep. The DOJ recently filed a statement of interest on the case, a move that homeless advocates see as support for the issue. The DOJ files statements when when an issue has national merit. By issuing a statement, the DOJ is not taking a formal position on the benefits of the case, but brings attention to areas that local courts can take on and can strongly influence a court’s decision on the matter at hand.

In Bell v. the city of Boise, the plaintiffs are seven homeless people who feel as though they have been systematically targeted. They have been repeatedly ticketed under Boise’s camping ordinance (ORD 28-14) which reads in part, “WHEREAS, the use of the streets, public areas, parks and  the Boise River riparian area for camping purposes interferes with the rights of others to use the areas for the purposes for which they were intended,”

In September 2014, Boise amended the ordinance to read in part,   

It shall be unlawful for any person to use any of the streets, sidewalks, parks or public places as a camping place at any time, or to cause or permit any vehicle to remain in any of said places to the detriment of public travel or convenience; or to cause or permit any livestock of any description to be herded into any of said places during any hours of the day or night provided that this section shall not prohibit the operation of a sidewalk café pursuant to a permit issued by the City Clerk.  The term “camp” or “camping” shall mean the use of public property as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling, lodging, or residence, or as a living accommodation at any time between sunset and sunrise, or as a sojourn.  Indicia of camping may include, but are not limited to, storage of personal belongings, using tents or other temporary structures for sleeping or storage of personal belongings, carrying on cooking activities or making any fire in an unauthorized area, or any of these activities in combination with one another or in combination with either sleeping or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping).

Law enforcement officers shall not enforce this camping ordinance when the individual is on public property and there is no available overnight shelter.  The term “available overnight shelter” is a public or private shelter, with an available overnight space, open to an individual or family unit experiencing homelessness, at no charge. If the individual cannot utilize the overnight shelter space due to voluntary actions such as intoxication, drug use, unruly behavior, or violation of shelter rules, the overnight shelter space shall still be considered available.”

The DOJ statement says that the plaintiffs claim that, “the City of Boise and the Boise Police Department’s (“BPD”) enforcement of these ordinances against homeless individuals violates their constitutional rights because there is inadequate shelter space available in Boise to accommodate the city’s homeless population. Plaintiffs argue that criminalizing public sleeping in a city without adequate shelter space constitutes criminalizing homelessness itself, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

The Plaintiffs in the Boise case are asking the court to follow a Supreme Court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles where it was ruled that on nights where there is inadequate shelter space, anti camping ordinances violate the 8th Amendment. By issuing a statement of interest, the United States “makes it clear that “the Jones framework is the appropriate legal framework for analyzing Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims. Under the Jones framework, the Court should consider whether conforming one’s conduct to the ordinance is possible for people who are homeless.” The DOJ goes on to say something even more telling,  “If sufficient shelter space is unavailable because a) there are inadequate beds for the entire population, or b) there are restrictions on those beds that disqualify certain groups of homeless individuals (e.g., because of disability access or exceeding maximum stay requirements), then it would be impossible for some homeless individuals to comply with these ordinances. As set forth below, in those circumstances enforcement of the ordinances amounts to the criminalization of homelessness,in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

There are at least two examples of Supreme Court rulings that strengthen this statement. As Mark Joseph Stern points out in an article for Slate, in Robinson v. California, a California Statute was struck down when the court found that the state could not criminalise the “status” of drug addiction. He goes on to say that a Texas statute on public drunkenness (Powell v Texas) could apply to voluntary public drunkenness, but could not be used to punish those who are addicted to alcohol.  These create a framework where it’s likely that homeless people who are unable to conform to rules and regulations of public shelters, would still be protected from heavy handed ticketing for camping because addictions prevent them from being able to access available shelter.

What does this mean locally? We reached out to the city of Ashland and received the following statement from City Attorney Dave Lohman who says,

“While DOJ’s statement surely will be taken seriously, the court is not bound by it in any way.  The extent to which a judgment in the case will embrace the points made in the statement and the consequent practical implications for local jurisdictions – including possible new enforcement, property maintenance, infrastructure, financial, and interjurisdictional cooperation obligations – is impossible to foresee at this time, long before the case and possible appeals are decided.

Until Bell v. Boise is decided, the City of Ashland has no legal obligation to modify its proscription of unpermitted occupation of public property to the exclusion of use by the general public.

At any time, City Council could, of course, amend AMC 10.46 for any reason, including agreement with some or all of the points in the USDOJ statement.  Any revisions to Ashland’s ordinance before Bell v. Boise is finally decided could have to be reconsidered after its ramifications are clear.”

SIDEBAR: Ashland Oregon targeting homeless?

Right in the middle of Occupy Ashland’s 24/7 occupation of the city plaza in 2011, I held a front row seat throughout the late night and early morning hours and got a firsthand glimpse of how our city police targeted homeless people. Several times I stood just steps away and watched APD hand out tickets under Ashland’s camping ordinance (2972) which reads in part:


PROCEDURES.  WHEREAS the City of Ashland wishes to modify and update the City Ordinance relating to Prohibited Camping to clarify the offense is a violation and not a crime and to adjust timeframes and other provisions and THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF ASHLAND DO ORDAIN AS FOLLOWS SECTION 1 Section 10 46 020 Camping Prohibited is hereby amended to read as follows No person shall camp in or upon any sidewalk street alley lane public right of  way park or any other publicly owned property or under any bridge or viaduct unless otherwise specifically authorized by this code bv the owner of the property or by emergency declaration under AMC26 20 30 of the Mayor in emergency circumstances. “

The Rogue Valley Community Press wants to hear from our homeless community. How has this affected you? Have you been ticketed and what was the outcome?

Back in 2011, we tried to do “Court Watch” and are willing to take that on again, so if you have a court date and want a witness, please contact us at 541.622.9483 or editor@rvcommunitypress.com.

Letter from the editor

Dear readers,

It’s as timely as the leaves changing on the trees in Lithia Park. Fall arrives and with it comes a citywide effort to push back against the homeless. We see it every single year. Part of it stems from downtown businesses who, being that they are in the center of town, deal with problems coming from the homeless community. This “theatre of the oppressed” plays daily, year round, but is especially visible during the heaviest of the tourist season as warm weather invites everyone outside and those sidewalk theatres become full.

Some of that winds up being very uncomfortable to watch. I imagine it’s even harder on those who are living it.

In this issue you’ll find pretty extensive coverage of the city council listening session on “The people passing through”. There were good people in that room, and I believe that most people mean well. Unfortunately the conversation was framed so that it was a session that was seeking the worse possible examples of interactions between the housed and un-housed communities.

In the spirit of what Mayor Stromberg asked residents to do, we’d like to make a few suggestions on what the city of Ashland can do to address these concerns.

  1. The city of Ashland should provide access to public restrooms that are open 24/7 and that are located throughout the city. In previous conversations on this topic, the city has stated that this is too costly. With the public testimony of people who live near Railroad Park (for example) speaking of how they see homeless people defecating in the park while there are often locked restrooms is an example of how the city of Ashland is failing residents, both housed and unhoused.
  2. Placing 10 additional trash cans along the bike trail throughout town would be a proactive solution to littering. Currently they are few and far between. Adding a small percentage of garbage pick up to the city’s current budget would be money well spent.
  3. Several residents complained of camping. The city could open up floor space inside Pioneer Hall and expand the current cold temperature shelter.  It is illegal and unethical for the city of Ashland to punish people for being homeless and for sleeping when there are no other options.

The downtown exclusion zone prevents the city from hosting public meetings in that zone, unless those meetings are not “public” and that opens up a whole new set of problems. This is especially troublesome when the city is using that space to discuss the exclusion zone and the folks who are most affected would face further citations for attending. How can excluded people converse with mayor or city attorney? The city should address this concern in a transparent manner.

There’s an old African proverb that says that when elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled. Let’s all be kind, not fight and take care of the grass.


Vanessa and Jason Houk

Ashland: Mecca or Menace?

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.


Ashland Travelers… friend or foe?

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KSKQ Morning Interview – John Wieczorek – Ashland Sleepout 2015

KSKQ Community Radio

On the Tuesday KSKQ Morning Show we talk with John Wieczorek, Director of Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland about services for Ashland homeless and low income.  We also discuss the upcoming Ashland Sleepout 2015.

Download Here – Via  Archive.org

TRANSCRIPT: City of Ashland listening meeting to address transient issues

These are the partial transcripts of testimony from the City of Ashland meeting to address transient issues. We will be updating and cleaning this up over the next few days.

“In other words it’s the behavior and not the people that we are dealing with.”

Stromberg acknowledges opens ourselves up to all kinds challenges

Monday Nov 2 study session, action. Some council direction will come out of that.

We will post the entire collection of emails read on city website by mid next week.

If they behave with respect, they are welcome here. John Stromberg what suggestions do you have, how can we cope with this?

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