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September 5, 2013
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Homeless unlikely to get Willis Park, Occupy Roseburg activist admits

An advocate for the homeless acknowledged Wednesday that the city of Roseburg isn’t likely to approve a homeless camp at Willis Park, though she said she’s happy the proposal grabbed attention.

Jeri Benedetto of Occupy Roseburg floated the idea after the city decided to sell the park along with the 139-year-old Willis House, the former City Hall, in the 700 block of Southeast Rose Street.

Even before then, Mayor Larry Rich and some councilors criticized Occupy Roseburg’s proposal to establish a downtown homeless camp. Downtown merchant Renee Clavell last week started circulating a petition opposing a camp anywhere.

Benedetto said Willis Park was always a long shot, but the proposal “did what I had hoped it would do, which was bring attention to the issue.

“I knew it was too close to downtown, and the reality is it’s not a big enough area for what we want to do, but (the) City Council kind of opened it up when they said they couldn’t take care of the place anymore, and a bunch of us thought, ‘We would take care of it.’”

Benedetto said Occupy Roseburg is scouting for other places for a camp, but hasn’t identified any other possible sites.

She said she was not surprised to hear that a petition against a camp was circulating.

“I knew that this was going to be an uphill battle. We all did,” Benedetto said. “There’s going to be opposition, I realize that. I just hope that making this happen and having it be a reality will convince some of those folks who have a slightly incorrect view of what kind of people make up the homeless population, and I don’t know how else to do it but show them.”

Clavell, owner of Occasionally Yours Party Rentals on Jackson Street, said Tuesday more than 100 people signed her “Just say NO Homeless Camp” petition within the first two hours. More than 130 people have since signed. Most who signed are downtown residents and merchants and many offered to collect signatures, she said.

The petition asks the City Council to not endorse a camp in or around the city.

“While I am a downtown business and property owner, I am also a resident homeowner in Roseburg who cares a great deal about the environment of the community that my family and I live in,” Clavell said in an email. “And any occurrence that negatively impacts any part of a community negatively impacts an entire community.”

Clavell said she was concerned a homeless camp would cause health problems and more crime.

Clavell said homeless residents can find shelter at the Roseburg Rescue Mission.

“In most cases the homeless individuals simply do not want to abide by societal rules,” she said. “They want their vices and have made their choices, but they want others to pay for their consequences.”

•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at cgeorge@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Sep 5, 2013 03:34PM Published Sep 6, 2013 08:05PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.