ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN) — Trash, needles, and human feces are spoiling Astoria’s public-owned forests, Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding said Monday, one week before the city council is set to vote on an ordinance banning camping in the city’s forests.
Spalding, speaking to Astoria’s Homeless Solutions Task Force, said that complaints about homeless camps have increased by 300 percent from 2017 to 2018. Overall, police have received 245 calls for service regarding the city’s homeless population since the start of the year.
The police chief said the city is looking for humane way to address residents’ issues, and that law enforcement doesn’t want to criminalize homelessness.
People living in the Astoria woods, however, say the ban would leave them with few options — especially if they don’t feel comfortable entering the city’s homeless shelters. It is already against the law to camp in the city’s public parks.
Vernon Hall, who says he’s been camping in the woods for 5 years, says warming and homeless shelters trigger his post-traumatic stress disorder and make it hard for him to rest. While he works in the construction business, Hall said a layoff years earlier, combined with mounting medical debt, has made it hard for him to find permanent housing.
“I’ll be 62 in a week. I don’t want to be in the woods — never wanted to be,” Hall said. “I’ve worked hard my whole life.”
Spalding, speaking with KOIN 6 after the meeting, said it would be challenging to address the needs of individuals like Hall who won’t enter shelters. At the same time, he said organizations operating in Astoria, such as Helping Hands and Clatsop Community Action, are willing to rise to the occasion to help people living in the woods who want to receive services.
Just one week before the vote on the ordinance, however, First Presbyterian Church of Astoria Pastor Bill Van Nostran, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was disappointed by the lack of focus on specific solutions for people camping in the forest.
Van Nostran said he came prepared to discuss options for additional shelters, including an unused former grocery store and the city’s community recreational centers. The two-hour meeting, however, did not include time for an evaluation of proposals.
Spalding, when asked by KOIN 6 about that criticism, said he has said from the beginning that it would take a long time and many meetings to develop solutions for homelessness in the coastal city.