The Keizer City Council unanimously passed a camping ban at its Monday night meeting. This follows a similar ban enacted in Salem last month, which some critics have said unfairly targets people experiencing homelessness.
The ordinance prohibits people from setting up tents or structures on sidewalks, public property and other public rights of way.
Keizer’s city attorney, Shannon Johnson, said at Monday’s meeting that the new ordinance won’t change the way law enforcement already interacts with people camping within the city.
“I think that camping in any part of the right of way already is illegal in Keizer and can be dealt with under the current ordinance,” Johnson said.
He continued: “However, if somebody wanted to argue that, my concern was that maybe that argument would be successful, so this filled what I considered to be a legal gap, but not as a practical matter something that we’ll be doing differently.”
Johnson also said that there is no specific fine amount associated with the ordinance, and that the option for a monetary fine will be used as an “incentive” for people not to camp.
“I’m not sure that a lot of citations are going to be actually issued,” he said.
The city’s community development director, Nate Brown, echoed that sentiment.
“Using citations is the last resort,” Brown said. “The first resort is to work with people, to explain their options, explain how to get resources and the only reasons that citations are employed is if the person refuses to cooperate or refuses after multiple attempts.”
Keizer police chief John Teague said there are approximately 43 campsites in Keizer.
“I would hate to see our public places turn into an unattractive part of Keizer,” Teague said. “The PD [police department] feels some responsibility for that as the Council gives us direction. At the same time, we are exceptionally compassionate in this PD.”
Jimmy Jones is the executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, which, among other roles, runs the ARCHES Project, a homeless services provider in downtown Salem.
The ARCHES building saw about 70 individuals camping near its building before Salem’s camping ban went into effect last month.
Jones said at the Monday meeting that Salem’s camping ban displaced people, now sleeping outside without tents, and that Keizer’s could do the same.
“When the City of Salem passed their ordinance, they imagined that everyone camping outside ARCHES in those tents would suddenly go away,” he said. “Well, they didn’t. Instead of camping in tents, they took to sleeping on the side of the street, next to Rite Aid and next to the Nordstrom building. There are about 70 to 80, maybe as many as 90 folks there tonight. So, there will be unintended consequences.”
The Salem City Council last month voted to allot more than $200,000 to help open an additional 140 shelter beds to people experiencing homelessness. That money was supposed to help open two warming shelter sites seven days a week, regardless of weather, through March.
In a statement, the city said that one warming shelter opened Jan. 1 and plans to stay open through March, but it has a “limited number of beds.”
The city and ARCHES, the provider of the city’s Warming Network Program, have been working with a commercial broker to find another short-term shelter site.
In its statement, the city said none of the sites it has looked at so far have been viable.
“Reasons include that they don’t meet fire and safety requirements, aren’t suitable for a shelter, aren’t zoned for the use or the site isn’t close enough to existing resources,” it said.
In the meantime, along with continuing to find another space, the city said it is continuing to work on opening new affordable housing units.
Keizer’s camping ban was adopted with an emergency clause, meaning it went into effect immediately.