PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As the homeless population in Astoria grows, city leaders are working to address concerns about homeless campsites.
“We just had a number of cases where people were camping for long periods of time in public parks and other highly visible places and the longer a camp is in place the more trash it accumulates, the more other problems happen like fights” said Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones.
In June, the city council passed an ordinance that lays out the “time, manner and place” in which people can sleep outdoors. The new rule allows people to sleep in public with a sleeping bag and/or tent from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“It was all about identifying ways to allow unhoused people without shelter to be able to camp on public land, have a place to sleep overnight, while at the same time preventing the creation of these permanent camps like you see in some other cities like you see in the Pacific Northwest which essentially make those communities unlivable,” said Jones
Some Astorians feel the rules are unfair for the homeless community, while others don’t like that the city is allowing camping. However, Jones explained state and federal laws allow homeless people to camp overnight on public land if a city doesn’t offer adequate shelter space, but the laws also allow the city to regulate the “time, manner, and place” in which individuals can camp.
“We’re restricting highly visible areas used by the community, like public parks, like public restrooms, like entrances to businesses – those are all off limits so what’s left for public land is essentially our rights of way, which there’s a substantial amount of right away in Astoria where people could camp out within those parameters of 9 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The city council has yet to approve a formal list of places where people can and cannot camp, however they met on Monday to review a map showing areas where it would and would not be allowed and listened to feedback from the community. There is no set date for when the city council will approve the finalized map.
Architect and affordable housing advocate, Laura Jackson, told KOIN 6 News moving the homeless population out of site won’t fix the problem.
“It is very much a not in my backyard situation of I don’t want to see the homeless I feel bad for them but I don’t want them to sleep in my neighborhood, I don’t want them to seek shelter in my neighborhood, I don’t want them downtown, I just want them to not exist,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who runs the non-profit organization Renovate PDX, believes the solution is to build more affordable housing.
“Housing prices just since we moved here in 2017 have skyrocketed, I believe we have a higher price per square foot than Portland does for some of our homes,” said Jackson.
Earlier in 2022, the city created a role within the police department to help address some of the needs within the homeless community. Kenny Hansen, a 33-year veteran of the Astoria Police Department, moved into the role of Community Resource Officer, helping connect those experiencing homelessness with mental health resources and organizations that work to help with housing and clothes.
“I thought it was a great idea — it’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” Hansen explained.
Nina Jenkins, Tim Bachtler and their teenage daughter live in their SUV parked on 2nd Street in the coastal town. The family wants everyone to know they are not homeless by choice — but have financial hardships.
“We have money, we have an income,” Jenkins explained, adding they have applied for more than 60 apartments but have been unable to get into an affordable one.
“We had a little bit of poor planning, we should have probably looked into the housing situation a little more before we came this way,” Bachtler said. “But who ever plans on zero housing, zero affordability?”
Bachtler told KOIN 6 News they have benefitted from some of the services the city connected them with.