COTTAGE GROVE – The City of Cottage Grove is still trying to figure out how to shelter its homeless population. 

In an ongoing conversation, though a short meeting by Grove council standards – only two hours long – council covered a lot of ground, reviewing legal sticking points and discussed a path forward on Monday. 

“If you’re not providing an alternative shelter of some kind then your ability to limit what goes on on your public lands is greatly restricted,” said Richard Meyers, city manager. “It would do nothing to help resolve, correct, take care of or mitigate homelessness in Cottage Grove.”

Meyers has been instrumental in the construction of a packaged policy plan presented to the council nearly two months ago. The policy package has been the subject of scrutiny, praise and everything in between.

“If you do nothing at all you will be in violation of state law and be sued, period,” Meyers said. “We have laws on the books [that prohibit camping] and even if you’re not enforcing those laws and they’re on the books, according to House Bill 3115, you can be sued.” 

Meyers also addressed controversy surrounding a stakeholder meeting that took place prior to the policy package being written. That meeting has been the subject of local debate, with some residents likening it to a “closed door meeting.” Councilor Mike Fleck, who also serves as the director of Community Sharing, was identified as a “stakeholder” and participated in those meetings. 

Meyers told councilors and onlookers that he met with different leaders across Lane County to understand the nuances of the homelessness issue in order to create policy that would be effective and specific to the needs of Cottage Grove residents. 

“We talked about youth homelessness, we talked about adult homelessness. We talked about mental health, we talked about emergency provisions for crisis management and mental health. We talked about the wide range of services and functions in the community,” Meyers said. “The information that was gathered from that group helped form and put together different ideas and options that are available.”  

Councilor Candace Solesbee advocated for a “community first” model in which residents and churches would step up to support unhoused individuals, rather than relying on the housing-first approaches of Eugene and Salem. “We’re different. We are Cottage Grove,” Solesbee said. 

Solesbee, who has been advocating for a work session to discuss an alternative to the housing-first model proposed by Meyers, said she has wanted more time and more community input. 

Councilor Greg Ervin proposed asking local churches and do-gooders to help house individuals experiencing homelessness in Cottage Grove. “We should invest in more infrastructure that can be used by the entire community, including the homeless population, additional bathrooms, maybe more resources, so that there’s a general availability of the things that we’re lacking right now,” said Ervin. 

The council discussed how it might do so without breaking HB 3115, a state law that prohibits religiously affiliated groups from using religion as a barrier to entry. “Discussing who is going to run the shelter and talking about if churches or community groups will help, is step two or five,” Councilor Jon Stinnett said. “What we’re doing here shows a lack of care. What we need to do is find people a home, and actually start the ball rolling on something.” 

More community input is being sought. A special meeting will be held Saturday, June 18 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Fleck hopes the forum will “provide solutions instead of opinions” in addressing homelessness. Community organizations, churches and local nonprofits are all eligible to present their solutions to the unhoused issue in Cottage Grove to the city council.