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Carisa Cegavske

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June 19, 2013
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Movement brewing to set up camp for homeless in Roseburg

Occupy Roseburg member Jeri Benedetto says she wants the city’s homeless to have a safe and legal camping site in town before winter.

Church groups, downtown merchants and homeless advocates will gather at the Douglas County Library on Thursday evening to discuss a camp. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

Benedetto, an Oakland resident, said she became interested in the welfare of Roseburg’s homeless when she and a small group of Occupy Roseburg members began serving free food Saturdays at Eagle Park at the corner of Southeast Jackson Street and Southeast Lane Avenue.

“Feed the Burg” began 83 weeks ago and often draws more than 100 people, many of whom are homeless, Benedetto said.

She said she feels empathy for the plight of many who camp outdoors with minimal shelter in the cold, damp winter months.

“We’ve come to really know the homeless in the community, and we just want something different for them in the winter,” she said. “As a community, I think that we can do better.”

She said the Roseburg Rescue Mission meets the needs of many, but not all, the city’s homeless. A camp could fill the gap, she said.

“The religious aspect just is not everyone’s cup of tea,” she said. “I think there’s plenty of room for both of these things to happen.”

Benedetto envisions a camp similar to Dignity Village on city-owned land in Portland. Dignity Village began 13 years ago as a tent city and eventually upgraded to miniature houses.

Benedetto said she would like to see a Roseburg camp started with Conestoga huts, a shelter shaped like the prairie-traversing wagons of the same name. Campers developing Opportunity Village, a homeless camp planned for Eugene, have stayed in the huts, which sell for $300 to $500. Benedetto said the shelters would be an economical way to start a homeless camp. The 6-by-10-foot shelters are insulated and can be locked to protect personal possessions.

Representatives of the Portland-based Sisters of the Road advocacy group and the Rural Organizing Project will join a panel discussion at Thursday’s meeting.

Occupy Roseburg members who visited Dignity Village to learn more about it this week also will attend. A doctor from the South River Community Health Center in Winston will speak about medical issues facing the homeless.

Benedetto said she hopes a consensus will emerge from Thursday’s meeting that a camp is needed and a committee will form to choose a site. She said she hopes to have a camp established by October.

Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich said he has reservations about setting up a camp.

“When I hear that I think, ‘Oh my gosh, will that create a lot of problems?’” he said.

Rich said he would be concerned about crime and sanitation. Still, he said he is open-minded and interested in hearing more about the idea.

A vice principal at Roseburg High School, Rich said he won’t be able to attend Thursday’s meeting because he will be at a meeting of school administrators in Seaside.

Downtown Roseburg Association Director Roxana Grant said Tuesday she favors creating a camp.

Some downtown merchants have complained of homeless people camping in their doorways, urinating in public and scaring away customers.

Grant said giving the homeless a place to camp outside the downtown area could solve problems for both the homeless and downtown merchants. Grant suggested two possible sites: a secluded spot on Deer Creek near the South Umpqua River and on a hillside behind the Walmart store on Northwest Stewart Parkway.

“We definitely want to find an answer to this issue,” she said. “Finding a place where the homeless can live with dignity is a good idea.”

• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Jun 19, 2013 11:29PM Published Jun 19, 2013 04:10PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.