With most of the businesses closed and those that are open only serving customers on a limited basis, you would think things would be quiet in downtown Roseburg.
But lately, the opposite has been true, and several business owners say it is due to the growing number of homeless people hanging out downtown and living in camps nearby. At least one business owner has also blamed the Roseburg Dream Center, which hands out food to the homeless from the basement of a church on Southeast Lane Avenue.
“There’s freaking mayhem. It’s like a war zone happening downtown,” Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks said recently. “All up and down Jackson Street, like it’s a freaking war zone.”
Tensions reached a head a couple of weeks ago when someone threw a metal grate through the window of The Hub Barbershop, at 746 SE Jackson St., causing an estimated $1,300 in damage. While police were investigating that crime they also found two large planters in the 600 block of Southeast Main Street that had been pushed over, with one broken, as well as several trash cans pushed over.
Brock William Blumenthal, 31, who has no listed address, was charged with criminal mischief. Blumenthal admitted to breaking the window and planter and had already broken several other windows downtown in April, causing several thousand dollars in damage, according to police reports.
In an email sent to city officials on April 27 entitled “Downtown needs your help,” Hicks relayed an email that was sent to her by Joe Bardaville, owner of Cup of Joe coffee shop, which is next door to The Hub Barbershop.
“I am not generally one who points fingers on social media, but a solution needs to be found for the population of transients, the mentally ill, the crack heads and criminals that congregate downtown at Jackson and Lane,” according to the email by Bardaville.
“The Dream Center feeds and clothes the needy on a daily basis, which brings this displaced population en masse to their location at 813 SE Lane St. in Downtown Roseburg, where they loiter at Eagles Park for days and weeks on end. I appreciate the altruism of this organization. However, in the five or so years since the Dream Center moved to this location from the Southgate Shopping Center we have witnessed the overall demise of Downtown Roseburg.
“Every business in Downtown has been affected by the burgeoning homeless population, as well as every person who lives or works or visits Downtown Roseburg. This is not a unique situation, it is happening everywhere. However, our City Planners are failing the residents and business owners by allowing the Dream Center to increase this population into Downtown Roseburg every single day …
“Your complacency in this issue has resulted in a rapidly escalating crime rate, loss of revenue, and business closures. You are responsible, and we deserve better. City of Roseburg, do your job, or expect and accept the consequences.”
Tim Edmondson, director of the Roseburg Dream Center, said he understands why business owners might be frustrated, but directing that frustration at his agency is misplaced.
“The homeless were in the downtown area long before the Dream Center. The Dream Center is helping these human beings with basic needs, like food and clothing,” Edmondson said. “This man is seeing this problem through a very narrow lens. I agree the city has failed, but they are not to blame and neither is the Dream Center.”
‘We’re incredibly frustrated’
At around the same time that the vandalism occurred, someone began marking up window storefronts with graffiti.
Greater Douglas United Way Executive Director Bryan Trenkle, whose agency is located at 702 SE Jackson St., sent a letter to city officials on April 27 to complain about the graffiti. In the email, Trenkle said nine businesses in the 700 block of Southeast Jackson Street had been vandalized with graffiti in the last couple of weeks. Trenkle attached photos of the graffiti with his email and blamed it on one person.
Roseburg police are investigating the graffiti, and have cited one person who they believe may be responsible.
There were also complaints of clothes, blankets and other items strung out at Eagles Park, which is across the street from the Dream Center. At one point police — prompted by a phone call from Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich — went to the park and got the people there to clean up “the mess,” Rich said.
And this week, six windows and the glass front door were broken and graffiti threatening President Donald Trump was written on an exterior wall of the Republican headquarters, at 506 SE Jackson St. Local and federal officials are investigating that incident, which caused an estimated $5,000 in damage.
One issue that is hampering law enforcement’s ability to tamp down problems downtown stems from a shortage of capacity at the jail due to social distancing requirements related to COVID-19. The capacity at the jail is significantly lower now and police acknowledge that because of that they are arresting fewer people and citing and releasing many more. For example, Roseburg police said they arrested 155 people last month, compared to 256 in April 2019.
“We’re incredibly frustrated and hamstrung by what we’re unable to do,” Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein said at a recent city council meeting. “It’s a struggle to try to find justice for people and it’s frustrating.”
‘Doing a darn good job’
Police have also been following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warns against breaking up homeless camps because doing so might increase the spread of COVID-19 in the general population.
As a result of that, “the amount of homeless camps has exploded,” Hicks said at the April 27 city council meeting.
Hicks brushed aside comments from Klopfenstein and City Manager Nikki Messenger, who said everyone was doing the best they could under the circumstances.
“I hear the excuses but I’m not really buying it,” Hicks said. “I’m not going to discredit anybody but I’m just calling BS on a bunch of it. I see it with my own eyes on a daily basis. The number of homeless camps has exploded. It is a free-for-all, literally.”
Mayor Larry Rich cut Hicks off and defended Klopfenstein during the meeting, explaining that he was following guidelines handed down by the state.
“Ashley, I’m going to interrupt and let you know that the chief is doing a darn good job, and he is following the rules,” Rich said. “He has to follow what the state says, we don’t go by what you say. It goes by what the governor puts in orders, and we will follow those rules.”
More recently, Hicks has sent photos and videos to city officials and the media showing trash at Eagles Park, suitcases and other belongings and bike repairs taking place under one downtown bridge and a fire burning under another.
“I am disgusted with the way our city manager mismanages public assets. I’m upset with the mayor for His lack of leadership and representation to all citizens,” Hicks wrote in one email. “Does this look like a livable city to you? Does this look like a downtown you’d like to spend your dollars or your time?”
In response to those criticisms, Rich said Hicks “struggles to communicate with people in a positive manner. I was hoping she would be able to learn, but I just don’t see any progress in that area.”
“She is well aware of the hard work that our police officers and parks department staff do in cleaning up the trash at Eagle’s Park,” Rich continued. “She chooses to ignore that fact because it is easier to complain than to be part of the solution.”
The city council is scheduled to meet on Monday, where the issue of what is happening downtown is likely to come up for discussion.