Helping the homeless is a complex issue that goes beyond the good intentions of local governments that want to help. It involves people working together across different platforms to implement the best solution.
In an attempt to help homeless individuals in Roseburg, Douglas County Commissioners built a covered metal respite shelter roughly the size of a two-car garage in the corner of the county courthouse parking lot.
After less than two months, the shelter was taken down because of miscommunication between the city and county.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice says he erected the temporary shelter in an attempt to manage complaints from city and county staff regarding unsanitary conditions brought on by homeless people near the courthouse.
The shelter was built on city property that is managed by the county, but Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks says the city staff and citizens were unaware that the shelter was being built. She alleges they were told originally it was a place for employees to smoke. Then it became a homeless shelter.
“It didn’t take long before the council members were asking questions about it. Was it legal? Was it a homeless shelter? Is it for the employees to smoke?” she says.
Boice says the intent was to build a place for people to go. He says the county notified individuals using the shelter that they weren’t allowed to camp there because of a city ordinance prohibiting camping. Regardless, he says, people began to sleep and live there, violating city laws.
“They were getting cited for sleeping in the shelter and camping,” Boice says.
The shelter site included a portable toilet, garbage cans, a picnic table and a sharps container. In a press release, the county notes numerous successes with the shelter, including eliminating the complaints and giving people a place to sleep at night.
The shelter also had a few problems. One was an increased number of complaints from a single neighboring property owner. The other issue was an increased accumulation of waste at the shelter site.
“One thing that did frustrate me considerably is that we are being proactive and helping folks not only solve our problem, but their problem,” Boice says. He adds that he wanted them to keep the area clean, but instead, the waste continued to build up and take up space.
Hicks says she noticed a few problems too. Some individuals took over the shelter and began turning others away who came looking for a place to rest. She also noted there was some selling of bikes from the shelter.
Regardless of these issues, in order to keep the shelter, Hicks says the county first needed to fill out a change of use form in order to alter the purpose of the parking lot space to include the shelter. In this process, the application would have gone to the council, who had the authority to award a conditional use permit, despite the no-camping ordinance. The county never filled out the application.
“Why didn’t they just fill out an application? I’m even a little confused on that part,” Hicks says.
Despite the miscommunications about the shelter, Hicks praises Commissioner Boice for starting a conversation about a specific homeless solution.
“I am hoping he’s willing to work with us in the future,” she says.
Both Boice and Hicks say they have ideas for how the city can address homelessness. Boice says he has presented some ideas for larger projects, but that the shelter was a more immediate solution.
“In the meantime, I was trying to address the complaints we were having from folks visiting the courthouse campus,” Boice says.
The city and county have options for building another respite center. Hicks says there is an area north of town that would be an ideal place for an alternative shelter. The county also has the option of placing a shelter outside Roseburg city limits, but both governments need to decide how they will work together.
“All in all, across the board everyone wants a progressive solution,” Hicks says.