The temperature is rising on a potential camping code in Bend, both in the city council and the general public.
The code change, which is in its planning stages, could limit where and how those experiencing homelessness could camp on public property in the city.
Bend is seeking the code change after multiple federal court cases found that a city cannot cite someone for illegal camping if they have nowhere else to go. Cities are allowed to establish “objectively reasonable” restrictions on how camping may occur.
Shelters in Bend are often full and there are several hundred more unsheltered people than there are beds available, according to data from the city.
“We are not keeping pace with the rise of homelessness,” City Manager Eric King said Tuesday. “Our shelters are full.”
At a forum with the public Tuesday and a city council meeting Wednesday, differences arose among the public and the city council regarding the extent of the camping limits and whether it was the right time to pursue the change at all.
Assistant City Attorney Ian Leitheiser gave recommendations to the council, saying any code change should likely include rules prohibiting camping dwellings apart from tents. Any shelter built needs to be portable, he said.
Councilors agreed that a draft code should be simple and not overregulate people camping in public areas.
Some community members at Tuesday’s forum wondered why the city was pursuing these changes if there are not enough shelter beds.
“How can we enforce camping in unsanctioned areas if we simply don’t have the shelter space?” resident Foster Fell asked.
Other community members said the city wasn’t doing enough to enforce its current code to prevent alleged criminal behavior at existing camps.
Councilor Mo Mitchell said Wednesday they thought the process was moving quickly, and that the current timeline prevented more in-depth conversation about homelessness. Mitchell said it seemed there was a rush to complete the process by November.
“I have lots of thoughts and lots of ideas and want to keep talking about this, but I also know… we only have one hour,” Mitchell said. “This is where we fail as a system.”
“For me, I’m having a really difficult time conceptualizing any of this because there’s not a discussion about support.”
Councilor Melanie Kebler, who is currently running to become Bend’s next mayor, said the council should keep beginning moving forward since they’ve already been the process and that community members have been asking for such a code change. The rest of the council agreed.
Other council members wondered how enforceable the proposed rules would be, given the lack of space in shelters available. City Attorney Mary Alice Winters said they will have to prioritize who’s asked to leave at any given time.
“We do not have the staff, depending on the number of people sleeping in rights of way, to clear every camp in the morning,” Winters said.
King noted Tuesday that the number of people living outside a home or vehicle continues to rise in Central Oregon.
The city is planning to host another public forum Aug. 29 and another workshop Sept. 7, to discuss rules on living in vehicles. A vote on the code change is expected sometime in November.