MONMOUTH — A request for city ordinance changes at the Nov. 19 Monmouth City Council work session led to some discussion about resources, or the lack thereof, for people who are homeless.
Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan told councilors that proposed language has been added to the “trespass upon city property code to now include all city-owned or rented buildings and structures, or grounds of such buildings or structures, during the time when they are not open to the public.”
The exclusion ordinance was originally established to address and discourage criminal activity in parks, Tallan said.
“So the proposal tonight is that we would add that language to include all city property and the parks, not just the parks,” he said.
Tallan said that he and former city manager Scott McClure had talked about updating the ordinances.
“I think it would be helpful to talk about, is there a progression here — exclusion, trespass, are those completely separate,” Mayor Cec Koontz asked.
Tallan said in 2001, they “added the exclusion piece” regarding parks because they were dealing with vandalism.
“People would come into the parks, vandalize park property, especially the restrooms,” he said.
They eventually caught who was doing it and addressed the criminal mischief, but also added a 30-day exclusion, Tallan said.
People would be issued an exclusion notice, and if they returned to the park during that 30-day exclusion, they would be subject to trespass, Tallan said.
“This would also serve to prevent homeless camps from springing up,” said Councilor Laurel Sharmer.
Tallan said that is part of the reason, but not the entire reason, they wanted to look at these ordinances.
“Yes, it would address that, so for instance, when the library closes at 8 p.m., when everybody’s left the library, it’s not open to the public at that time,” Tallan said. “We would be able to tell people if they were on that property that they should leave. We do that, and have done that, on the parks properties for longer than I’ve been around. That goes way back. Probably to the ’70s.”
He said it is rare that officers cite anyone, but they do remind people at parks about the hours of closure if they are there after hours.
“Most people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know,’ and they walk off the property,” Tallan said. “We would presume to do the same with the other properties.”
Homeless in Monmouth
Sharmer expressed concern about Monmouth becoming involved in a legal battle, in the same way the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., is about homeless camps.
City attorney Lane Shetterly said that is about anti-camping, and the ordinance changes Monmouth is proposing are not anti-camping.
“This is a durational hours,” he said. “It is a trespass after hours. It also does not apply to public right-of-way. We’re not trespassing people from sidewalks in this ordinance.”
He said that whole area of the law is unsettled.
“I’m comfortable that you can adopt this and I can make a valid argument for the constitutionality of this ordinance,” Shetterly told councilors. “I can’t guarantee you an outcome. These are all difficult areas, but I can make a straight-faced argument of the constitutionality of the ordinance, even in light of the Boise case.”
In the Boise (Idaho) case, courts ruled an ordinance banning sleeping outdoors was unconstitutional if the people it affects had no other options.
“Is there a particular problem that is going on right now that this is designed to address?” Councilor Chris Lopez asked. “I was kind of struck that we do already have the trespass upon city property in here and it seems to strengthen it a little bit, but it doesn’t actually seem that much more different than what’s already written.”
Shetterly said that the library and city hall are not covered under the current code.
Councilor Roxanne Beltz said that issue came up at a library board meeting.
“There are two individuals that actually camp out there the moment the library closes to the moment it opens, and then they leave,” Beltz said.
“ … and not on the public right-of-way,” Shetterly interjected.
Beltz said they stay on the library property and leave garbage.
“So for clarity, the specific problem that this is trying to address is a number of homeless individuals in our community that are camping or utilizing space on public property, correct,” Lopez asked.
Tallan said, it can, but it is not exclusive to that.
“We have other issues that happen in the parks and other properties that don’t include homeless people that we still have to address,” Tallan said. “We have a college, we live in a college town, and things like that, so we have other issues that occur on city property also that we address. It won’t be exclusively for that, but it will help with that.”
Lopez asked what proactive options or services Monmouth provides for people who are homeless.
Tallan said the Polk County Warming Center is one option, but it is only open when temperatures are below freezing and it is held in different locations, not always in Monmouth.
“We try to get that information to individuals as best we can,” Tallan said. “We have resources to hopefully get them to wherever that location might be. If the temperature is that cold.”
Tallan said there “isn’t a whole lot” in Monmouth, but the county has some resources.
“We’re hoping (the continuum of care) is going to help our area as that gets up and running,” Tallan said.
At a joint meeting in April, the city councils of Monmouth and Independence discussed forming a continuum of care with neighboring communities in Marion and Yamhill counties.
Janet Carlson, a former Marion County Commissioner, consulting on the CoC project, said in an email on Sunday that they are submitting the application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development next week.
“The application includes the geographic boundaries of Marion and Polk counties,” Carlson said. “It includes resolutions from most of the major governments and letters of support from provider organizations, plus an online survey where 53 people representing nonprofit and government agencies cast their vote to support the new CoC.”
Yamhill County decided not to join this time, she said.
Tallan told councilors that the police department’s goal is not to be punitive.
“Our goal is to help people and to get them where they need to be,” Tallan said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer unless the warming shelter is open.”
Lopez asked what officers tell people if the shelter is not open.
“It’s a hard question,” Tallan said. “A lot of times we don’t have an answer for them. We do tell them that if they can make to Salem, there’s a mission over in Salem, and there’s a lot of resources over there.”
Shetterly said the resource center in Dallas has emergency-level services.
And it is only open during the day, Koontz added.
“There’s usually nothing open at night,” Tallan said. “There are some local churches that we’ve reached out to, and some of the pastors at local churches will help people who are looking for a place.”
That isn’t something officers guarantee, he said, but sometimes they can help with gas cards or bus vouchers.
Lopez asked where people go when officers ask them to move from one space.
“Do they then just move to the adjacent sidewalk or what would happen,” Lopez asked.
Tallan said they don’t see that a lot.
“Recently, we did have one individual who moved to the sidewalk area,” Tallan said.
That person referred to the Boise case.
“Generally, they’ll stay here,” Tallan said. “We know where they’re at. They know maybe where they’re at isn’t where they have permission to be. We’ll generally, a lot of times, allow them to stay the evening and then in the morning, they seek the help from resources because then things open up.”
He said they don’t force people, but they do offer vouchers in case someone wants to use it to get to a place like Salem or Dallas that has services they need.
He said some officers buy food for people to try to help them through the night.
“I really appreciate that culture of compassion that clearly is held very closely in the police department,” Lopez said. “I appreciate what you’ve done to foster that.”
Still, Lopez said he has concerns about strengthening regulations “without having another answer. It seems like it’s just moving people from one place to another.”
Beltz said the library staff are well-versed in what services are available for people, and will often help people.
“It’s not the perfect answer, but it’s something that the library staff just deals with as part of their daily interactions with people,” she said.
Koontz asked Shetterly how the proposed changes to Monmouth’s ordinances are different from Salem’s sit-lie ordinances.
“That really is getting at more of the public right-of-way,” Shetterly said. “That’s sidewalk, and we’re not there. We’ll let them chart that territory. But you’re right, that city has services. They can do more.
But yeah, this is not a sit-lie ordinance, and we’ll watch the evolution of that over in Salem.”
The amendments are scheduled for the first reading after press time and their second reading will be in January, Koontz said.