Roseburg police officers joined a city work crew Wednesday to clear out a homeless encampment at Deer Creek Park, the second such sweep of a homeless encampment in less than a week.
Wednesday’s cleanup began at about 7:30 a.m., according to several people who were there at the time. By the time the cleanup was finished several hours later, about two dozen camps in the area had been cleared out, displacing about 50-60 people who had been living there.
Police had distributed notices earlier in the week that the sweep was coming. Police were firm during the cleanup, said Max Stafford, an advocate for the homeless who hands out food and other items to people living in the area.
“They made it pretty clear that they were fully prepared to arrest anyone that stood in their way,” he said.
Wednesday’s cleanup follows a similar one conducted at Gaddis Park on Friday. The sweeps are apparently part of a push to remove the homeless from such encampments this summer. On Sunday, Roseburg police posted illegal camping notices at 16 sites throughout the city, according to an email from Suzanne Hurt, a spokesperson for the city.
The notices give people living in the camps 72 hours to leave.
An officer has been visiting known homeless encampments in the city for the past seven weeks, notifying people living in them that the cleanups were coming, the email said. The officer at times was accompanied by counselors from ADAPT, who would offer assistance and housing services, Hurt said in the email.
The encounters did not engender much of a response from those in the encampments, Hurt said.
“The response has been underwhelming; virtually every camper has advised they don’t want assistance,” said Roseburg Police Cheif Gary Klopfenstein in a prepared document. “ADAPT advised over the past six weeks, there has been only one person who has taken advantage of the services offered.”
Stafford and others who were there said the cleanup was chaotic, and there were several people so shook up by it that they were sobbing.
Stafford, who is on a city committee that is seeking ways to help the homeless, said he was so dismayed by Wednesday’s cleanup that he recorded a video of it, which he posted online.
The nearly three-minute-long video shows people scrambling to save what belongings they can before city workers discard them, as police stand watch. Stafford talks over the video, and describes a scene of police “ravishing the camps.”
“This is mayhem down here,” he said on the video. “Such a lack of planning and strategy for these folks. To displace the displaced is just wrong. ... Man, oh man, oh man. Lord help us have mercy on our community as these people throw away the last few items that they have.
“They have nowhere to go, they don’t know what to do with their stuff,” Stafford continued. “They’re disoriented. Crews are here throwing their stuff in the garbage as they are trying to pick through it. It seems like there could’ve been a better plan to land these folks somewhere else. ... This is just wrong in so many ways.”
By late Wednesday afternoon, the scene at the park was completely different. All the camps had been removed and the park was clean and empty, the river quietly flowing by.
A few people who had called the park home just a few hours earlier came by again to survey the situation.
Dustin Benedict said he had lived in the park for about two months and had felt relatively safe and peaceful there. That was shattered by the displacement Wednesday morning he said. And even though he and others had received notice of the cleanup, seeing it unfold was a bit of a shock, Benedict said.
“I was happy being there. I was comfortable. And it was all ripped away. It feels like we were attacked,” he said.
Amy Smith lives in the Gaddis Park area, but comes by Deer Creek Park often to talk to friends there and help out when she can. Smith, who has been homeless for seven years and has some health issues, said the cleanups not only cost her and others their home and belongings but a bit of their dignity too.
“This is like a repeat for me for the last seven years. It breaks my heart more and more every time,” she said. “It feels like abandonment again. It feels like resentment again.”
Christian Ellington agreed. He said he had lived at Deer Creek for a year-and-a-half and had developed a tight bond with many others living there. When he came back to view the scene Wednesday afternoon, he said it was hard to put his feelings into words.
“I lost everything. I lost my family.”