City Council adopts sleeping ordinance for the homeless

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The Lebanon City Council held a special public hearing June 28 to finalize an ordinance addressing where homeless individuals can – or can’t – sleep at night.
Following almost two hours of public input, the council ultimately changed its original direction of trying to locate one specific “designated sleeping area” to instead create an ordinance that basically states where people cannot sleep.
Calling it “time, place and manner restrictions,” (TPM) the council agreed to restrict sleeping or protection from the elements between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. to the following rules: not on sidewalks or landscape planter strips, not in parks when parks are closed, not within 1,000 feet of a school or youth organization, not within 50 feet of a city trail, not within 100 feet of a rail line, not within 50 feet of the bank of a waterway or canal, not within 50 feet of a city-owned entrance, no impediments to emergency access or public right of ways, not within car or bike lanes, not in parking lots, nowhere where a threat of fire is determined, no fires, and no digging or damage to vegetation.
Based on the restrictions, city-owned property that could be used for rest and protection might include, but not be limited to: the landscaped area in front of the police department, a portion of property on Tennessee Road across from the wastewater treatment plant, and part of the landscaped property next to Public Works facility on Oak and Fifth streets.
Responding to a question posed by Councilor Michelle Steinhebel, Development Director Kelly Hart indicated confidence the restrictions prevent anyone from sleeping downtown between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. For clarification, people may rest or seek shelter in city parks until closing, which is at 10 p.m.
Hart further clarified for Lebanon Local that “during the day, the only location which people may seek protection from the elements (e.g., use of tents, tarps, etc.) is city parks,” and they may not rest or seek shelter on sidewalks.
Since last Fall, an ad hoc committee and the city council have been developing an ordinance in response to recent federal and state laws to provide appropriate publicly-owned spaces for the houseless to rest. Much of the discussions centered around locating city-owned property where a “designated sleeping area” could be determined where people could rest without punishment.
The council signed an ordinance on April 12 allowing individuals to find rest and shelter in public parks during park hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but the city still needed to determine where they may go during off-hours.
During the course of the next few months, the council evaluated several sites that might be selected as the designated sleeping area, including: the sidewalk next to City Hall on Maple Street, the former gas station referred to as the “holiday station” on Oak and Park streets, Division Street behind BiMart, Tennessee Road across from the wastewater treatment plant, landscape at the entrance to the Public Works facility on Oak Street, the parking lot between City Hall and the holiday station, and a vacant lot owned by Linn County located on Dewey Street and S. Santiam Highway.

A family addresses City Council members about concerns they have regarding a potential designated sleeping site near their home on Berlin Road.

Six new sites were introduced for the June 28 meeting: a lot at the old Santiam Bridge crossing Berlin Road south of Grant Street, trail property along the canal and across from Linn-Benton Community College on Industrial Road, the terminus of Burdell Boulevard, the landscape in front of the Lebanon Justice Center, part of the landscape and courtyard at the Santiam Travel Station, and a portion of private property offered by property owner Jeff Heatherington, located south of Grant Street and west of Booth Lane.
At the May 10 and June 28 public hearing meetings, residents filled the small council chambers to oppose specific locations and/or suggest other ideas. The latter meeting was met with much opposition to the Berlin Road location, citing concerns of traffic and pedestrian safety, current problems of theft, potential problems with fire, and children safety because there is a school bus stop nearby.
Some residents said they’d prefer to see the city work on opening a managed site or shelter, to which City Manager Nancy Brewer said she agreed that woud be good but there is no nonprofit or other organization “stepping up” to operate it, which is an expense the city cannot afford to do itself.
During discussions, Council KJ Ullfers said regardless where a camp site is located, “if it’s not managed, it’s just not gonna work. You can’t control what goes on; it’ll be a nightmare for (the public), it’ll be a nightmare for anybody around it.”
Following the public hearing, Councilor Jeremy Salvage also opposed the Berlin Road option. As a firefighter for the City of Salem, he goes to “multiple homeless campfires that are out of control every single day,” he said. As such, he understood the concerns shared by the public about the potential for fire danger at the Berlin Road site.
Salvage then initiated the conversation to consider the TPM option.
Ultimately, the agreed-upon TPM restrictions automatically excluded several of the previously considered designated sleeping areas, but does keep some options available, as stated earlier.
“We need to make sure that time, place and manner restrictions don’t end up with no place you can sleep,” Brewer said.
Salvage said the new restrictions are “a reasonable first step” allowing Lebanon’s police to enforce camping offenses while keeping the city within the legal boundaries required by state and federal laws. He added he would like the council to check in after 90 days to see how well the new ordinance is being received or whether it creates unexpected problems.
A potentially added benefit to the city for adopting the TPM ordinance is that it frees the city from having to spend money. While looking at designated sleeping areas, city staff determined it could cost upwards of $78,000 to $130,000 a year for fencing, mulch, trash clean up, toilets and handwashing stations.
“At this time, the City would not be improving sites with facilities or fencing,” Hart told Lebanon Local. “However, the City will continue to evaluate the implementation of the TPM ordinance, and make adjustments as appropriate. The ordinance implementation is set for review before the City Council in 3 months.”
The council made the ordinance effective immediately in order to be in compliance with state law that required the city adopt a plan by July 1.
“It gives the police department the tools they need immediately to start working on the issue,” Ullfers said.