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Downtown businesses respond to homelessness

Homelessness in Roseburg has been a noticeable issue for years. For two local business owners, it’s become a fact of life.

Isidra Castro, owner of Raven Crafts Tattoo, said interacting with homeless people has become a part of her daily routine.

Freddy, a homeless man who frequents the tattoo parlor in search of shoestrings and money, is one of Castro’s “regulars.”

“I’m always collecting socks, flashlights. A lot of them have messed up teeth and mouths and can only eat soft stuff,” Castro said. “I just don’t know how to say no.”

She said she wished there were more programs available for people experiencing homelessness in the community.

MSullivan / MICHAEL SULLIVAN/The News-Review 

Roseburg police officers conduct a welfare check on a man lying down between a pair of trash cans in a breezeway near the parking structure in downtown Roseburg on Aug. 30.

“You can only afford so much, you can only help so many people, and it sucks, I do what I can,” Castro said. “They should at least do a food kitchen or a food donation drop off.”

In 2017, the Roseburg City Council adopted a set of goals by resolution that included taking a proactive role in community economic development and revitalization and adopting policy that enhances housing and community development.

The city prioritized the housing crisis in 2018 when it acquired funding for a Housing Needs Analysis and Homeless Population Study of Roseburg. These studies provide the city with accurate data and potential solutions to guide policy in order to address the issue.

The Homeless Population Study cited lack of affordable housing, barriers in accessing housing, limited mental health services, shelter limitations and insufficient drop-in services as the city’s biggest needs and gaps in service.

Roseburg Police Sgt. Jeff Eichenbusch said it’s hard to quantify how many times Roseburg police respond to calls for service for complaints related to homeless people, though he said such calls are common.

Eichenbusch said the police attempt to identify threats in the community without waiting for a call to service.

“For us, self-initiated activity is actually where we go out and try to be proactive, instead of trying to respond to a call for service. We try and go out and find things before they’re getting reported, like drinking in public and disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. That sort of thing,” he said.

Over the summer, the officer stationed at the schools in the community is reassigned to patrol the downtown and park areas in the community.

Annemarie Beaittie, manager of Brown’s Shoe Fit downtown, said she has interactions with homeless people at least once a day.

“We usually, unfortunately, have to call the nonemergency line once or twice a week and it tends to be pretty bad in the breezeway area by the parking garage,” Beaittie said. “So much so that we don’t take advantage of our back door because they tend to hang out back there.”

She said the business has experienced everything from homeless people camping near the store’s back door to a man using the store’s water to witnessing hardcore drug use.

Eichenbusch said when RPD receives calls for service, the officer has to prioritize the calls and choose the one to take action on.

“Say for example he has three calls that are pending. One of them’s a shoplifter that’s detained at Walmart, one of them is somebody that’s drinking beer at Eagle’s Park and one of them’s a traffic accident,” Eichenbusch said. “He has to prioritize which is the biggest community concern and safety concern.”

In this situation, the accident would be handled first, then the shoplifter and then the person drinking beer.

“It’s unfortunate, but when we get really busy with calls that’s what we have to do is prioritize which ones they go to first,” Eichenbusch said. “So it doesn’t go by the time it came in, it goes by the severity.”

Beaittie said not all homeless people she interacts with are dangerous or threatening.

“Some can be relatively friendly, harmless and everything. It is rare to get a completely belligerent person,” Beaittie said. “But at the same time, we usually call the cops about once every week and it is due to hysterical yelling or the drug use.”

County Commissioner Chris Boice proposes creating new camp for homeless

There are more than 100 homeless people without shelter in the Roseburg area, according to the Roseburg Homeless Population Study commissioned by the City of Roseburg. Many of them camp at night, some under bridges and others inside tents.

Some community members object to the campers, saying they create a nuisance and leave behind garbage that’s unsightly, bad for the environment and — in the case of discarded drug paraphernalia — unsafe.

The question is, however, if they’re moved out, where are the homeless to go?

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice has an idea about that. He’s proposed the community create a campsite at which the homeless could find shelter.

The site he’s suggesting is on property across from Phoenix School. There’s a bus stop across the street, a convenience store two blocks down, and no immediate neighbors.

The property is available, as is additional land that would create a buffer between the camp and other properties, Boice said.

While he believes the camp needs to be within city limits so it’s close to services, the location creates a complication in that the city government would have to agree to take on the project.

Some tent campers congregated along the river behind Millsite Park in what was known as Camp Freedom until community members began to clean up and reclaim the area, and the county sold the property. Some still camp on the hill behind the Roseburg Valley Mall and others in the woods not far from the Douglas County landfill.

Although they can’t camp without permission on private property without running afoul of trespassing laws, government officials can no longer criminalize campers purely for sleeping outdoors on public property due to a recent federal court ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling said campers can’t be cited when there are not sufficient unrestricted shelter beds available. The bulk of Roseburg’s available shelter beds don’t qualify as unrestricted under the ruling because they require the appearance of sobriety and attendance at religious services.

“I think most of us at least in leadership positions in the community have come to realize that it’s a very difficult problem and probably doesn’t have any single solution, but one of the things we have to do in order to be able to enforce violations is to provide them a place to be,” Boice said.

Boice convinced i.e. Engineering to volunteer its services creating a site plan. The plan shows several three-sided shelters like baseball dugouts with metal roofs, concrete floors and low voltage electrical outlets. It also included picnic tables, sharps containers for drug needles, lockers and a 24-hour restroom with showers. And there’s a big fence that would prevent it from becoming an eyesore.

The camp could provide a place to stay for between 70 and 100 people, Boice said.

“I get mixed reviews,” Boice said. “Some people say it’s not going to work. Some people say it’s not the right location. Some people say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea.’”

Boice said he envisions the camp being unstaffed, and some people have complained that will mean people will use drugs and assault each other there. But Boice said that’s stuff that’s already happening where people are camping now.

“Yeah they’re going to do those things in there, but we’re going to be able to immediately access it with law enforcement if they’re doing it there rather than someplace down in a brush pile along the river,” he said.

Cycle of displacement: Roseburg's camp cleanup program

On a clear morning in late May, the sun was beginning to evaporate dew on the baseball fields at Gaddis Park in Roseburg — an area where unsheltered people have long established camps.

Across the multi-use path that runs along the park, a narrow trail through brush and trees led down to the banks of the South Umpqua River where the air was slightly cooler.

Nestled into the brush near the exposed roots of a tree on the riverbank, a Douglas County work crew began to take down a structure that homeless people vacated after the city posted a few days earlier a camp cleanup would take place.


A man working with a Douglas County work crew collects items left behind at an abandoned homeless camp in Roseburg this past May.

“Watch for nails guys,” said Lori Oglesby, who has overseen county work crews since 2016.

Three crew members struggled to pull down the roof of the structure leaning against a tree branch. Logs and two-by-fours were spaced about 6 inches apart likely to support a tarp that would shield inhabitants from rain.

Empty food containers, batteries, a couple hypodermic needles and other collected items littered the ground around the structure.

“Tear it down the best you can,” Oglesby said after a crew member noted the group didn’t bring a chainsaw that day.

Although Roseburg city officials say clearing out camps is not a solution to homelessness, camp cleanups have become a key part of the city’s response to the issue. In a June guest column in The News-Review titled, “Roseburg is trying to tackle homelessness,” City Manager Nikki Messenger primarily discussed camp cleanups.

Cities can’t criminalize camping on public property when there isn’t a sufficient number of unrestricted shelter beds available for the homeless population. In Roseburg, there are no unrestricted shelter beds, because shelters require people to attend religious services and be sober. But the city can conduct camp cleanups.

While hazardous materials are removed from public spaces, the effect of the cleanups on unsheltered people is continuous displacement throughout the city. Service providers say the displacement makes it harder to give people the resources they need to try to get housing.

Max Egener / MAX EGENER/The News-Review  

Two pairs of shoes thrown away lie among other garbage after a homeless camp cleanup near Gaddis Park in May.

Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to finance camp cleanups. During a three-month period from the end of April through this July, the city spent $9,155 on 10 days of camp cleanups, according to city records. The money went to county work crews and dump fees for materials collected. The amount doesn’t include money for staff time paid to the city’s one full-time compliance officer, who supervises the operations.

The cleanups have also proven to be a financial liability for the city. Between October 2018 and April 2019, the city suspended its camp cleanup program after Legal Aid Services of Oregon filed a lawsuit seeking $27,000 in damages. Attorneys representing a homeless man in Roseburg alleged the city violated the man’s constitutional rights by illegally disposing of his property during a camp cleanup without due process.

The city settled the lawsuit in March for $7,500. As part of the settlement, the city denied accountability for allegations made in the lawsuit.

The city also agreed to create a policy, which followed state camp cleanup laws. The city created an intergovernmental agreement with the county formalizing who is responsible for camp cleanup operations because the city uses county work crews.


According to Oregon law and the new policy, the city must follow a process when conducting a camp cleanup.

The city must post a notice at the site at least 24 hours before a cleanup that it will occur. Unclaimed property with “apparent utility” that is considered sanitary must be stored at the police station for at least 30 days, according to the policy. The policy lists items such as tents, medication, functioning bikes, camp stoves and cell phones.

But which items are thrown away can be left to the discretion of the work crew because of the wording of the policy.

Unsanitary property is defined as property that “is reasonably feared to harbor hazards or disease; has had its usefulness compromised by exposure to weather, and/or is so dirty that any reasonable person would consider it unusable as found.”

At the camp cleanup in May, crew members repeatedly asked whether something should be thrown out. Nearly everything was thrown into two 20-yard dumpsters stationed at Gaddis Park for the cleanups.

One crew member asked specifically about two pairs of shoes that appeared usable to him. Compliance Officer Dennis Randolph said they were soiled and should be thrown out because they were found inside a collapsed tent deemed unsanitary because it had rotting food in it.

While the crew was clearing out a camp near the railroad tracks, a man started searching through one of the dumpsters. He said he was looking for his bike, but he also appeared to be looking for other useful items.

Oglesby yelled at him to get out of the dumpster and he started shouting expletives back before leaving the area a few minutes later.

The work crews find new camps while they’re cleaning up posted camps, Oglesby said.

“I mean, we’re cleaning it up today, but they’ll be back tomorrow,” she said. “We’re just moving them around and they get to come back to a nice clean camp. I don’t know what the solution is but there has to be one.”

At a recent Roseburg City Council meeting, Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein said cleanup efforts are working to keep campers out of certain areas, but he echoed Oglesby’s comment.

“We’re doing our best, but it’s like moving chess pieces around,” Klopfenstein said.

Stuart Cowie, director of the Community Development Department, which oversees the camp cleanup program, acknowledges that the cleanups haven’t decreased the number of camps recently.

“That shouldn’t be the reason for saying, well we’re just not going to cleanup any more camps,” Cowie said. “There has to be a long enough period of time to determine the effectiveness of it.”

While the cleanups won’t address the underlying causes of homelessness, he said, cleanup supervisors try to give unsheltered people encountered at camps information about resources. Supervisors pass out a sheet of paper that lists contact information for drug and mental health service providers, the Roseburg Rescue Mission, housing and food resources.

Christopher Hutton is a board member at the Roseburg Dream Center, which provides meals, clothing and other items to unsheltered people. He spends a substantial amount of time talking with unsheltered people and helps them access resources for housing.


He said if the city’s goal is to stop people from camping in public, camp cleanups might have the opposite effect because displacing people makes it harder for him and other service providers to help people access resources that may help them find housing.

“There’s no concentrated area that people are at,” Hutton said. “It puts more pressure on people to find shelter where they otherwise wouldn’t. Abandoned sheds, houses that are empty, commercial buildings that are vacant. When winter hits, they’re going to be having to really look.”

A long-time homeless camp unofficially called the Freedom Camp next to the South Umpqua River near Micelli Park was disbanded after the county sold three parcels of land to Raymond Pieren, who owns other properties nearby, in June, according to county records.

Hutton said before deputies with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office told campers the property sold and they had to leave or face arrest, as many as 60 people camped there. In mid-July, Sgt. Brad O’Dell, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said in an email deputies contacted several individuals who were warned or cited for trespassing.

Hutton says deputies told people who were camping in the area on county land, not the properties that sold, to vacate the premises too, which would violate the 24-hour notice requirement.

People formerly residing at the Freedom Camp have since scattered throughout the city, according to Robert Thompson, a homeless man from Roseburg who used to camp there.

Thompson says being continuously moved throughout town is dehumanizing.

“We’re animals to them,” he said. “It’s depressing, it’s disheartening, it creates anxiety. It makes us worry when’s the next time we’re going to be harassed, and when we do, where are we going to go.”