Ashland drafts urban camping restrictions after opening homeless shelter

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Nov. 8, 2023 6:24 p.m.

With the opening of a new homeless shelter in Ashland last week, city officials are now developing an urban camping ban.

Ashland City Council members met Monday night to discuss a proposed ordinance to limit urban camping. It is being designed in accordance with new state laws about when and where people can be barred from sleeping in public. HB 3115 was passed by the state Legislature in 2021 but went into effect in July 2023.

Ashland City Council members, shown in this March 2023 file photo, met Monday night, Nov. 7, 2023, to discuss a proposed ordinance to limit urban camping.

Ashland City Council members, shown in this March 2023 file photo, met Monday night, Nov. 7, 2023, to discuss a proposed ordinance to limit urban camping.

Roman Battaglia / JPR

The ordinance, in its draft form, would place restrictions for camping in certain public spaces in Ashland, define rules for camping in vehicles and set rules on when and how a campsite can be torn down. There are some exceptions for people who are considered involuntarily homeless, such as people who may have become homeless temporarily because of financial or health reasons.

The city is primarily focusing on penalizing those who don’t take advantage of shelter beds when they’re available. The city opened an emergency shelter Nov. 1 using state funds. Because the city now has this shelter, there is more flexibility to enforce camping restrictions.

Council member Dylan Bloom wanted to see Ashland align its penalties for illegal camping with those in Medford, in order to discourage people from coming to Ashland.

“If we have it at such a small violation compared to a neighbor that has it significantly higher, I think that logic would dictate that we’re going to start attracting more folks to Ashland and then it will become a serious issue for all of us,” said Bloom.


Ashland’s current ordinance classifies camping violations as a class IV violation, with a maximum fine of $250, an amount that would not change in the proposed rule.

But, council member Bob Kaplan said it would be counterproductive to give misdemeanors to homeless individuals when the ultimate solution is them finding permanent housing.

“I’m worried that some of our enforcement actions could make them a less attractive candidate for rental housing, whether it’s a low-income housing or market-rate housing at some point in time,” Kaplan said.

The city is still developing the specifics of what a camping ban would look like, including where people can camp, and what the penalties would entail. They want to balance acknowledging the hardships faced by homeless people with keeping public spaces accessible to all.

The City Council hopes to get these laws passed before the new year.

City staff are also creating a homeless outreach group, known as a livability team, modeled after one created in Medford in 2019.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said this team would help connect people to other resources.

“This is a formalization of stuff that we’ve been doing for a long time,” said O’Meara. “And one of the big lessons that we take away from Medford is that all of the city departments and all of our exterior partners, we need to be on the same page.”

The so-called livability team would comprise of police officers working with other city departments and community organizations to help people get access to services. The Medford team has helped homeless people work through housing applications, obtain identification needed for employment and given out bus passes.

“When they approached someone, especially people that they grew familiar with, it became multifaceted and they tried to be part of the solution,” said Assistant City Attorney Carmel Zahran about what she witnessed with the Medford team on a ride-along. “So that is the spirit behind the livability team.”