Homeless: Camps pop up in parks, fields, under bridges

July 2016 Posted in Community, News

nocampingBy Kristine Thomas

On a Sunday evening at Coolidge-McClaine Park, a man sits quietly by the bridge with his two dogs. A crumpled McDonald’s bag is on the grass along with his backpack.

Monday morning around 7:15 a.m. another man is asleep on a picnic table in the park pavilion.

Different days, different times, but scenes indicative of a situation seen more frequently in town.

“I think it’s fair to say that our police and public works employees have been seeing an increase in interactions with homeless persons,” Silverton City Manager Bob Willoughby said.

Silverton Police Chief Jeff Fossholm and Silverton Area Community Aid Executive Director Teresa Warriner said in separate interviews they have seen an increase in the number of homeless people in Silverton in the last year.

City employee Fred Bosquez has worked in the city’s parks for five years. He has seen people picking through garbage cans looking for food and cans and bottles.

“I am seeing more transients coming through the park,” Bosquez said. “They are setting up camps in the woods along the East Bank Trail.”

Bosquez also has noticed the homeless are younger.

“In general, I don’t think they are doing anything wrong,” he said. “They are just looking for a place to stay.”

A friendly, outgoing man, Bosquez said whenever he meets a homeless person, he strikes up a conversation. He asked one man who was helping him pick up garbage in the park if he needed a job because the city was hiring a seasonal employee.

“He told me he didn’t have a driver’s license and he was down on his luck,” Bosquez said.

He has observed a man who searches garbage cans for bottles and cans, leaving with four to five bags.

“Most of the homeless people in the park don’t cause a scene,” Bosquez said. “They try to blend in.”

What is disappointing to Bosquez is there are not many services to help the homeless in Silverton, including the lack of a homeless shelter.

With free lunches being served in Coolidge-McClaine Park this summer for children, Bosquez said he has seen a lot of food thrown away.

“There was a homeless guy about 25 years old who hadn’t eaten lunch and asked if he could get a free meal. I told him the food was only for kids to 18 years old,” Bosquez said. “After the kids were done, the guy went through the garbage can and took the good food like apples that they had thrown away.”

One homeless man shared he is in Silverton because he feels safer here than in Salem.

Coolidge-McClaine Park isn’t the only place city employees are encountering the homeless.

Fossholm said his officers have found homeless camps under bridges and in the field behind Robert Frost Elementary School.

Silver Falls School District Superintendent Andy Bellando said the district recently installed signs to let people know it was illegal to loiter or camp on district land. The signs also allow the police to issue a trespassing citation if someone is found camping.

“We’ve had indications of occasional campers on school district property just west of Robert Frost School,” Bellando said. “We found tents and other camp remnants this spring and some last summer, too. We worked with Silverton Police Department in monitoring activity there. One person was found and told to leave by the police department.”

Take a look at the Silverton Police log and almost on a weekly basis there are reports of police officers responding to calls about homeless people.

1108 Warrant 300 block Coolidge St.
We followed up on a report from a citizen who came to the PD yesterday reporting someone possibly camping off the trail to Salamander Island in Coolidge-McClaine Park. I was also advised they had a similar call that came in early this morning. After hiking down the hillside from Anderson Drive, we located a transient camp occupied by (a man, a woman) and another male subject. (Two people) were arrested on warrants and transported to Marion County Jail. All three subjects were told they would need to clear the site and vacate the park.

Suspicious 200 C. St (Bridge)
I observed smoke coming from underneath the C. St Bridge. We went down to investigate and located two male subjects. One of them started a fire under the bridge by using several plastic bags. The fire was put out and he was told not to do it again.

Along the park side trail to Salamander Island, there are clues that a former homeless camp was located along the steep sloop, including a wall built with branches, garbage and a blanket. It appears each time a camp is discovered, the campers move further into the woods. In a location off the trail, a tent was sighted on the far side of a blackberry tunnel.

Willoughby said his public works and police staff are aware of the homeless camps on city property.

“There was a homeless camp on city property above the trail between Coolidge-McClaine Park and Salamander Island,” Willoughby said. “Several weeks ago, the police, following their normal procedure, posted notice at the camp that it had to be cleaned up and removed.”

Willoughby said camping is not allowed on city property and the police will enforce the rule if it is violated.

“However, state law requires notice and due process be followed as part of removing homeless camps,” Willoughby said. “The city follows this statutory notice requirement, which usually means it takes a few weeks to clean up an illegal camp instead of a few days.”

To prevent the homeless from camping on city property, Willoughby said the staff plans to look at bridges and city property to determine if it can eliminate the problem with fences and signs to make access more difficult.

“Short pieces of fence and signs are going to be a lot more cost effective than a shelter,” Willoughby said. “Hopefully, this would be a long-term fix to reducing some of the popular spots on public property. But until we evaluate cost and whether it’s even possible to erect barricades, we won’t know if it’s feasible.  Many of the people living under bridges or in secluded camps wouldn’t use a shelter even if one is available.”

SACA director Warriner and case manager Sheryl Buchheit both said there has been an increase in clients who define themselves as homeless.

“They are either couch surfing, living in their cars or camping in the woods,” Buchheit said. “We define homeless as someone who doesn’t have a permanent residence.”

Warriner said when a homeless client visits SACA, the staff determines ways to assist the person, whether it is giving the person food, helping find resources such as a place to stay or providing the person with blankets or clothing.

While the SACA staff doesn’t ask why the person is homeless, Warriner said there are many factors that lead to it, including mental illness, family problems or drug and alcohol abuse.

“We are seeing people migrating to Silverton from Salem and getting here by bus,” Warriner said. “Silverton is known as a giving community and people know about the free meals offered at our local churches.”

Buchheit said on average, she sees about six homeless clients a month, ranging in age from teenagers to the elderly.

Both Warriner and Buchheit have advice on what people should do when a homeless person asks for money.

“We ask people to send the person to SACA,” Warriner said. “If you want to give, give them a gift card to get a meal but don’t give them money.”

Emphasizing each homeless person has his or her own story, Buchheit said some people don’t want to improve their situation. And in Silverton, there aren’t any shelters.

“When we give a person food or clothing, that is just a band-aid,” Buchheit said. “What we need to do is give them the resources they need to better their lives.”

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