The Roseburg City Council has spent much of the year methodically discussing the issue of homelessness, but with winter fast approaching there is an immediate concern on the horizon: How to ensure homeless people have somewhere safe to go during freezing weather.

Toward that end, the council on Monday took steps to allow for more emergency cold weather shelters and let people live in their vehicles, in designated spots, when they have nowhere else to go.

The cold weather shelter provisions would in essence codify efforts that are already underway to shelter homeless people during extreme weather conditions, city officials said. The city is looking at updating the codes to set standards for inclement weather shelters, used to house homeless people when the temperature dips below freezing in the winter, when it becomes unbearably hot during the summer, or when the air quality is considered unsafe.

The extreme weather shelters would be allowed to open up to 90 days a year and only allowed in certain zoning districts. One provision meant to help the shelters is waiving the requirement that they have sprinkler systems in place in case of a fire, as long as someone from the shelter is there to monitor the situation, City Manager Nikki Messenger said.

“Really the intent is that they’re going into buildings that are not normally used for residential purposes,” Messenger said.

The move to allow such shelters is being fast-tracked so that they can get set up for winter. It is scheduled to go before the city planning commission on Monday and then come back to the City Council for a vote of approval in early November.

The City Council also approved a pilot program that would allow people to sleep in their vehicles in designated areas, also known as vehicle camping. Messenger and her staff have been researching what other cities have done to allow vehicle camping, most notably Salem. That city’s vehicle camping pilot project was accomplished by an emergency declaration related to homelessness in the city.

The Salem program allows vehicle camping in non-residential areas between the hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. at no more than eight sites in the city, and each site can have up to six vehicles. Salem also requires that a restroom be located at each site.

Messenger and her staff will draw up similar regulations for Roseburg’s pilot program, then bring them before the council for discussion and a vote.

The council also agreed to create a commission to deal with the issue of homelessness. City staff will work on the parameters for the commission, including its formal name. Mayor Larry Rich will act as the commission chair.

The council also approved an effort to develop some kind of emergency shelter, or a system of shelters, for the homeless.

That idea is modeled after the Rogue Retreat in Medford. Rogue Retreat has a multi-layered program that includes supportive housing on several levels, including an emergency shelter, a community of small homes and most recently, a campground. In August, several city officials toured the Rogue Retreat facilities.

Roseburg city councilors said they would like to find a nonprofit to run such a program here. They also cautioned that the nonprofit would have to come up with the funding for such a project.

“I think the city’s best contribution would be to try to find a location for this,” City Councilor Brian Prawitz said. “I’d like to see a small effort that doesn’t cost the city a lot of money.”

Councilors shelved plans for a one-stop shelter and service center, often called a navigation center, which they had identified as a priority. Several councilors said they didn’t want to take on too much and come up short.

Councilors acknowledged that homelessness was a critical issue facing the city, but said they want to take a slow and steady approach to make sure they get right whatever steps they take.

“The moves we are taking tonight are kind of landmarks for the city and I think it’s important to take small steps to make sure we get it right,” Prawitz said. “This needs to be a slow, steady pressure we are putting on this problem.”

In other business on monday:

  • Discussed a $150,000 federal Community Development Block Grant meant to help local businesses impacted by the coronavirus. The Small Business Microenterprise Program will be managed by the CCD Business Development Corp. The program will provide grants to eligible small businesses of up to $2,500 per qualifying job created or retained, or $10,000 per qualifying microenterprise. All businesses must be located in Roseburg. The objective of the grant funding is to assist small businesses and microenterprises within the City of Roseburg to avoid job loss, remain solvent, fill cash flow gaps and help microenterprises that provide home health and quarantine services.
  • Passed on second reading an ordinance prohibiting smoking downtown during outdoor events.

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter

@scottcarroll15.

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