BEND, OR -- Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson is proposing a camping ban in unincorporated areas. He presented a draft of the ordinance to County Commissioners on Wednesday.
"Any camping on publicly owned property cannot occur within one mile of a private property line or the urban growth boundary," he told them. Nelson also wants a time limit for those living in areas outside designated campgrounds or private property, "Individuals who are camping out on public lands may stay two weeks, and then need to move 2.5 miles away from that location." He added, "I’m the Executive Branch of government. It’s my job to enforce the rules. And everybody is accountable to those rules."
Commissioner Phil Chang argued with Nelson over the best approach to solving the homeless crisis, saying the ban could lead to costly lawsuits for the county, "I think it’s extremely important for us to understand what kind of legal challenge we are inviting or would face moving forward with this, before we think seriously about moving forward with it." Sheriff Nelson replied, "And I would also encourage you, Commissioner, to think of how much a legal challenge might cost if someone loses their home or a life is lost out in that community."
Chang wants the county to work on long-term solutions so the houseless community has a place to go, "Because we know that when you outlaw camping in one place and you clear people from that place without adequate pathways out of homelessness for those people, they will end up unauthorized camping somewhere else." He added, "I think everyone in this room is acutely aware that something needs to be done. The important thing is that we need to do the right thing. We need to do the thing that will actually have results in the long run."
Nelson pushed back, "No, I disagree with you. We don’t need to tell folks where to go. There’s some personal accountability in this and I wouldn’t insult those living in those situations by saying they didn’t have the thought process to try and determine where to go." He admitted to Commissioners, "We don’t have a solution. All we’re trying to do is try to mitigate the effects of homelessness. And we need those folks, living in that situation, to meet us halfway."
Commissioners Tony DeBone and Patti Adair voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at a future time. Chang opposed advancing the idea. Sheriff Nelson says he may ask for revisions before a formal ordinance is written.