Tents, chairs and human waste litter a mile-long stretch of the South Umpqua River from the end of Mill Street to Tipton Road in southeast Roseburg, evidence of a homeless camp that’s housed upward of 30 campers at one time.
The homeless camp starts where Mike Lyon’s property ends.
“I knew when I moved here, it wasn’t the best neighborhood,” said Lyon, who moved to the end of Mill Street in January 2013. “It looked more like people were down on their luck than hardened criminals, but it’s just gotten so far out of hand.”
Lyon, 50, said that on a typical day 20 to 30 people walk along the railroad tracks and past his property, often staggering drunk, screaming, cursing and littering.
He said he’s gotten to know many of them. “The core group of people weren’t bothering me, but it’s the people they’re bringing down here,” he said.
Lyon said his home was burglarized in February, and in another incident, a man brandished a knife at him. He’s had many tense confrontations with passers-by.
“They’ve been living down here so long, they think they have the right to trespass,” he said.
Lyon said he contacted the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office about the problem. Deputies posted “no camping” signs and said they would clean up the area.
Lyon said the sheriff’s office responded to his complaints, and he has seen some improvement.
“It has gotten better,” he said. “It’s neat because I’ve been seeing deer and other wildlife moving back in the area.”
Still, he said he thinks deputies could be more aggressive about ousting campers.
“It’s gotten to be a joke. They hang these signs that say, ‘No trespassing,’ and then don’t enforce it,” he said.
Sheriff John Hanlin said deputies posted about 18 signs on July 14 between the railroad tracks and river.
People camping there had 24 hours to leave, Hanlin said. Deputies talked to campers about where they could find shelter, he said.
He said some people left and those who remained were cited or arrested if they had outstanding warrants.
Hanlin said his office is stretched thin and that there isn’t a county ordinance against makeshift campsites.
“We’ve done some cleanup, but we aren’t done yet,” Hanlin said. “We’ve been fighting this issue for years. We are doing what we can.”
Lyon, who has taken it upon himself to shoo away campers, said he sent an email expressing his frustration to Roseburg resident Ashley Hicks, who’s organized cleanups along the riverfront behind Micelli Park in southeast Roseburg.
“The Sheriff Department dropped the ball in a major way,” the email read.
Lyon said deputies waited weeks to post “no camping” signs and were not routinely patrolling to make sure people were complying. He said only two signs had been posted by July 17, and they were on the highway side of the railroad tracks. There were no signs posted at the main camp, he said.
About 15 campsites remained July 17, he said.
Hicks said she was alarmed by Lyon’s email. “I heard a cry for help, a call of distress from Mike,” she said.
Hicks forwarded Lyon’s email to city and county officials.
She said today she hasn’t visited the camp for some time but said what she saw before was “pretty disturbing.”
“There’s been all kinds of issues, including people visiting people at the camp and parking along the highway. It becomes a safety issue,” Hicks said.
Lyon said people also park outside his home and that he’s caught people doing drugs in their vehicles.
He installed surveillance cameras and an alarm system that alert him when people approach.
Still, Lyon said he’s had enough. “I tried to take care of it myself. It’s just gone too far,” he said.
“The big issue here with me is the trash. The stuff going in the river, not to mention, the human waste,” Lyon said. “They’ve abandoned whole campsites.”
Hanlin said he hopes to bring a jail inmate work crew to the camp to pick up trash.
Lyon said he didn’t realize Hicks was going to circulate his email to city and county officials and said it was harsh, but has produced results.
Deputies have been sweeping the area the last few days and cracking down on people, he said.
“I’m not looking for no pat on the back. I just want to live in peace,” Lyon said.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.