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Bend releases first draft of ordinance banning illegal camping

This file photo from November 2020 shows an emergency cold-weather shelter at the First Presbyterian Church in Bend. A new ordinance could restrict how and where those experiencing homelessness can camp in Bend.
Emily Cureton Cook
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This file photo from November 2020 shows an emergency cold-weather shelter at the First Presbyterian Church in Bend. A new ordinance could restrict how and where those experiencing homelessness can camp in Bend.

The city of Bend on Wednesday released its first draft of an ordinance banning illegal camping in the city, the first glimpse into how camping could be prohibited in Central Oregon’s largest city.

The proposal would ban people from camping on city property or on public right-of-ways, such as sidewalks, unless there is no room at local shelters.

Federal court rulings have determined it’s unconstitutional to cite someone for camping on public property if they have nowhere else to go. Those rulings stem from a case in Boise, Idaho, which ultimately cost that city more than $1 million in damages.

Bend’s ordinance also includes language for how unsheltered people can camp if they have to. People wouldn’t be allowed to camp within 500 feet of a shelter, in any city-owned parking lot, any residential zone in the city, or near the Deschutes River and Tumalo Creek.

Vehicles used as shelter must be operational, legally parked and not accumulate large quantities of garbage.

The proposed changes to city code come at a time of skyrocketing housing costs and a growing number of people experiencing homelessness. Rental prices in Bend hover around $1,800 a month on average, while the median sales price of a home was $770,000, according to the latest market report from the Central Oregon Association of Realtors.

Nearly 1,300 adults and children are homeless in Central Oregon in 2022, a 17% increase compared to the previous year, according to the most recent point-in-time count. City Manager Eric King has said the number of people experiencing homelessness greatly outnumbers the amount of shelter beds available.

The council passed an ordinance earlier this year easing the process for new shelters to open in Bend.

Wednesday’s draft came after the City Council held a series of work sessions and community discussions, deciding how camping should be allowed on city property if no shelter is available.

City leaders also have scheduled future roundtable discussions on the draft ordinance later this month, which are to include people experiencing homelessness.

Council members Wednesday declined to have an in-depth conversation about the draft, saying they would wait until the roundtables had been completed. A full vote on the ordinance is expected sometime in November.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Joni Land