City explores options on homeless issue

After the September ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that labeled citations for individuals sleeping on the street as cruel and unusual, the city of Cottage Grove had been exploring its options to remain in compliance with the law. 

Then, the rumors started

The most prevalent story circulating town had the city constructing a homeless camp at Trailhead Park.

“They’re sadly mistaken of what’s going on,” City Manager Richard Meyers said of the rumors. “Nothing is set up and we’re pursuing options on how we’re going to address the court ruling. We have to do something otherwise they can set up camp and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The ruling was handed down on Sept. 4 after two individuals in Idaho challenged existing city ordinances that prohibited sleeping overnight in city parks. Their argument noted that, with nowhere else to go, receiving a citation from the city was cruel and unusual punishment — a constitutional violation. According to the ruling, citations can still be distributed if the city has an alternative location for individuals to sleep, such as a shelter. 

Cottage Grove does not have a shelter within city limits. Under the new court ruling, individuals are permitted to sleep on public property, despite existing city ordinances that set rules to the contrary. 

“We’re trying to protect our parks,” Meyers said. Currently, parks within the city close at 10 p.m. and all residents are barred from entering them. However, the ruling from the Ninth Circuit would make it illegal for the local police department to issue a citation to individuals sleeping in the park after 10 p.m. because the city lacks an alternative location for the individual to go. 

And while there is no plan to set up a homeless camp at Trailhead Park, according to Meyers, the city is looking at its options and actively working on an alternative. 

“It’s kind of how we’re already doing it with the RVs,” he said. “We have about eight RV homeless people, they’re not homeless because their homes are on wheels but they’re parking in our lots at the parks or streets. They can park there until the park closes at 10 and then they have to go somewhere. So, what’s happening is around 9:30 they move out onto the street and stay there for a day, move to a park or move to another location and as long as they’re doing that, it’s fine.”

The same premise, Meyers, said, would work for any solution the city institutes. People could sleep in the parks until they closed and would then have to move to a location set up by the city — taking their tents and other belongings with them.

“The benefit is that we keep them moving,” Meyers said. “They’re not setting up camp with extra propane tanks and stuff, it’s staying clean and if it doesn’t then we can cite them for littering.” 

The yet-to-be-determined location would not rise to the level of camps in Eugene. According to Meyers, it wouldn’t even qualify as a rest stop. 

“We want it in a location where we won’t be creating easy cover for nefarious activities,” he said. “We want it somewhere we can watch them and see what’s going on because, sorry — the court doesn’t say you get to go do this and do whatever you want.”

No decision has been made about what a location would look like or where it would be situated. According to Meyers, the city planned to meet with several community stakeholders to discuss the available options. 

“That’s the key,” he said. “We want to get them to another place and then in that place, that’s where we’re meeting with other groups saying, ‘Ok, who can help us with this and as you’re helping can we find those other services they need to connect with?’” 

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