Cottage Grove Community Center camp closed

Local do-gooders volunteered to move tents, cookware and other items from the community center site to Trailhead Park. After months of living outside the community center in Cottage Grove, residents of the encampment were given 72 hours notice to move.

Due to the city council’s challenges in arriving at a decision about constructing a homeless shelter within the city limits, the people living at the community center temporary site were given a 72-hour notice to leave.

Cottage Grove Chief of Police Scott Shepherd made the rounds Tuesday mid-morning, telling campers outside city hall, “Everyone needs to pack up and move on. I can’t tell you where to go, but I can tell you where not to go.” Shepherd said campers are prohibited from pitching tents at the pavilion and amphitheater in Bohemia Park, under the gazebo at Coiner Park, or outside the community center and city hall. Most residents relocated to Bohemia and Trailhead Park, where tents were set up underneath picnic awnings to escape the heat.

A few good samaritans gathered outside the community center early Tuesday to help move residents’ belongings, packing up tents, tarps, cookware and weather-gear in their trailers and transporting them to Trailhead Park. Karen Munsell made the decision to house one of the residents, calling him her “third son.” “This was supposed to be a safe place for people in our community to be until we had a shelter of some kind set up,” said Munsell. “It just feels completely backwards to all the effort that is put in to get the ball rolling on another option. And it just forces people into this unknown of stability again, which is exactly what they’re up against.”

Mark Luellen drove in from Lowell to pick up his son, Brian, who has been a resident at the community center site for the last few months. “My heart hurts for what’s happening here,” Luellen said. “There are a lot of feelings about this. Everyone has a lot of feelings – me too. I don’t know how you couldn’t be hurting after watching this happen. But, the city has been trying to figure out what to do, just like my family. And I don’t think anyone has a good answer.”

Chad Cooper used to live outside the community center. He told The Chronicle in the last three years he’d seen most of his childhood friends killed from drug overdoses and that without permanent housing, he’s set back from finding a job and getting back on his feet.

This is the second clearing of a homeless encampment in the last two weeks.

On Monday, May 23, Cottage Grove Police officers swept a homeless camp in Trailhead Park, issuing citations to people disobeying littering and no-smoking laws, according to Support Services Commander, Capt. Conrad Gagner.

The citations resulted in a citywide park ban for a period of 15-90 days. The action to search Trailhead was reportedly a “miscommunication between the chief of police” and Sergeant Matt Walker, who thought the order to “cite vehicles that had been parked for more than 72 hours” also included citing the homeless camp at Trailhead Park.

“The chief asked the shift supervisor and the sergeant to clear the campers. The sergeant interpreted that as all the campers, not just the ones in the RVs at East Regional Park,” said Gagner. “We’re not going to try to get involved in any kind of opinions about how we feel like things should be. They break the law, we enforce the law and that’s it.”

The Chronicle reached out to Cottage Grove Chief of Police Scott Shepherd and Sergeant Matt Walker for comment, but did not hear back by press time.



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