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Bend approves policy directed at houseless camps

The Bend City Council approved a new policy Tuesday to allow for the removal of unhoused people from city property. If the city manager declares a campsite unsafe, they have broad authority to restrict access to streets, sidewalks, or other rights-of-way, but only after giving campers and service providers two-weeks notice.

“We want to be very careful in how we use this tool,” Bend City Manager Eric King told councilors. “One of our primary responsibilities as a city government is to provide a safe environment for all our community members.”

The city’s policy was crafted to try and avoid legal challenges under a recent federal ruling. In 2019, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that local governments across much of the West cannot criminalize living and sleeping in public, without providing alternative places for people to go.

Oregon law requires cities and counties to, “ensure the most humane treatment for removal of homeless individuals from camping sites on public property.”

This week city funding rebooted an overnight emergency shelter with about 60 beds. It’s run by a faith-based nonprofit, and normally only operates during cold weather months. Guests are required to leave the property every morning and return in the evenings.

Councilors directed King to only enforce the new unsafe camp policy at one area for now, along Emerson Avenue on Bend’s East side.

“This is a dress rehearsal for problems we’re having in other areas of our community,” said councilor Anthony Broadman.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting