City & Government, Creswell

Camping vote packs Creswell City Hall

Garden Lake as ‘sleep site’ up for consideration

CRESWELL — Creswell City Hall was standing-room only during Monday night’s city council meeting as members of the community spoke against a proposed camping ordinance that would designate Garden Lake Park as a “safe sleep site,” in compliance with state mandates surrounding homelessness. 

Jeff Sulllivan lives next door to Garden Lake Park, which is located on the east side of town. “If this goes through, it’d be a totally frightful place filled with those people,” he said. “It will be exclusively used by the homeless community and the rest of us would not have the opportunity to enjoy that park.” 

According to Lane County Sheriff’s sergeant Alex Speldrich, the City of Creswell is hosting around eight individuals living in cars and tents. Over 20 residents spoke publicly during the nearly four-hour meeting. 

Resident Jim Schuck was concerned about safety and law enforcement response times. 

“My fear is that I have to protect my daughter from (the unhoused),” he said. “We just don’t have the time to follow our kids around and make sure that they’re safe. We have the Sheriff’s deputies, but there’s only so much they can do.” 

As a result of a 2021 state law, House Bill 3115, cities cannot ban camping or sleeping in public spaces, as long as the regulations are “reasonable.” The new state law requires cities to update its ordinances and policies by July, or otherwise comply with federal court rulings.

Samuel Stotts is a police officer with the Eugene Police Department and resident of Creswell. 

“It’s a broken system right now,” he said. “I will tell you right now if you continue down the path Eugene did, you will lose this City.” 

Creswell’s current ordinance does not comply with the federal court rulings or the new state law because it bans sleeping outdoors in anything from a sleeping bag to a lean-to or other structure on public property, said Michelle Amberg, city manager.

The City of Creswell’s proposed ordinance will not allow individuals to stay at Garden Lake permanently. If passed, the unhoused would be subject to “time, place, and manner” restrictions. That means the unhoused would be moved “at least 200 feet every 72 hours,” have to adhere to “camp-size restrictions,” and contain vehicle camping to the downtown commercial zone. 

Creswell City Attorney Ross Williamson was adamant that the “time, place, and manner” restrictions in the proposed ordinance are too restrictive, putting the City at risk for potential lawsuits. 

According to Amberg, “The council looked at all the public lands and ruled out parks with playground equipment, the bicycle pump track park because there are no sanitary services there, all lands associated with water and sewer services, and all rights-of-way,” she said. “Garden Lake is being considered because there are bathrooms and water there, there is room, there are no sprinklers, and the homeless are staying there already.”

Rulings in Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grants Pass have set the precedent that a government cannot “criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless – namely sitting, lying, or sleeping.”

According to Martin, reasonable restrictions may be imposed on the use of public spaces based on where, when, and how it is done, and that full bans may be imposed if there are enough shelter beds with no barriers to access.

In Blake, the court ruled it does not matter if a prohibition is civil or criminal, so long as people can keep warm and dry by the use of a sleeping bag or a tent. It also takes into account whether people are denied shelter based on their gender, age, or another constitutionally protected attribute, their lack of sobriety, or their criminal histories.

HB 3115 followed the ruling in Martin and the initial decision in Blake. The state law requires any city or county law regulating the acts of sitting, lying, sleeping, or keeping warm and dry outside to be objectively reasonable to people, including those experiencing homelessness.

Amberg clarified the scope of the changes is narrow and applies only to publicly-owned properties, like parks and sidewalks. 

HB 3115 sets state restrictions for how cities can enforce anti-camping laws and requires local governments around the state to adopt policies that are “objectively reasonable” in regulating when, where and how people can live outdoors.

“I know there’s lots of questions and arguments back and forth,” said resident Bill Kent. “There’s a lot of fear. But I would really recommend that we take this seriously. This is not going away. It’s going to only increase and I think it deserves at least an ongoing visibility of people finding solutions rather than fear.” 

Councilor Staci Holt motioned to postpone the vote to the June council meeting, and was supported unanimously by the Council. 

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I am compassionate, but I’m also realistic. We need to work together on this ordinance and have conversations on each piece of this.” 

The draft ordinance will also be reevaluated during the upcoming May 22 work session, where members of the public are able to comment. 

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