MEDFORD, Ore. – Nearly 80 fires have been reported along Bear Creek Greenway since March.
Issues along the Greenway are nothing new but now Rogue Retreat, the Gospel Mission, and the City of Medford are working to form a solution as we head further into fire season, while we also navigate the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed solution that will go before city council on July 2, is a temporary campsite for people who are homeless.
Medford’s Police Chief, Scott Clauson is hoping that by working to provide a space for people to go for resources, less people will be camping out along the Greenway.
If the campsite is successful, that would potentially mean less fires and a renewed availability for the public to use the greenway for recreation.
“I’m hoping to change the impression, certainly, of the Greenway,” said Clauson, “Our residents really want to use the Greenway for recreation and it’s important to me to create a safe area that has limited fire hazard.”
As a part of the campsite proposal, Rogue Retreat and the Gospel Mission would run and operate services.
“They have a successful track record,” said Clauson, “they do an outstanding job with the Kelly Shelter and the tiny house project so we’re excited to have them on board and to take on the heavy lifting of this project.”
“We’re not just trying to put a person in a tent and leave them, we’re trying to bring all of these resources to them,” said Chad McComas, the Executive Director of Rogue Retreat, “Let’s see if we can’t figure out how to get them off the ground and out of tents and off the Greenway; a lot of these people really want to help, they just don’t know how to get it so that’s where we come in.”
The proposed campsite would be constructed along Biddle Rd. right next to Crater Lake Ford. It would offer food services, medical services and a safe place for the transient community to stay.
“The land has been identified, the owner says they’re willing to work with us so now we have to make it happen,” said McComas.
Many of the specific details of the proposal will be ironed out this week and will be discussed at the city council meeting on July 2nd.
Even as details are solidified, the purpose of the campsite is set.
“We are very concerned about the pending fire season and the fact that we have a lot of people living along the Greenway,” said Clauson, “There’s a sense of urgency to get folks moved out of those camps in heavily vegetated areas. The idea is to move folks into a more concentrated area where they can receive services.”
By having a campsite instead of a building, more people will be able to receive services.
“This is an opportunity for us to allow for social distancing, follow CDC guidelines, and be able to still allow people to be out in a tent situation,” said Clauson.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, local homeless shelters haven’t been able to serve as many individuals.
“We’re really limited because of COVID-19 right now on where we can house people, we still have concerns about social distancing and shelters,” said Clauson.
“Rogue Retreat has said for years that there really needs to be a low-level entry somewhere, like a campground or a campsite because we don’t have enough beds in shelters, we don’t have enough homes in affordable housing, there’s just not enough places so we’ve got to start somewhere,” said McComas.
McComas believes COVID-19 will only continue to complicate the issue of homelessness in the Rogue Valley.
“These homeless issues are not going to go away, with people losing jobs, more people on unemployment than ever before,” said McComas, “somewhere down the road you’re going to have a lot more people homeless that we’ll have to deal with.”
Even though the current proposal is created to be temporary, McComas is hoping it opens doors down the road.
“I am excited that we can try this temporarily; let’s just see if we can’t make the model work and if we can make it work then we’re in a place to have discussions for the future,” said McComas.
According to Clauson and McComas, area businesses are aware of the proposal. In order to not impact local businesses negatively, there are specific regulations built into the campsite plan.
“This isn’t just ‘anyone can show up’, this is going to be a well-run, case managed program,” said Clauson, “It would be completely enclosed; for security purposes, to help protect the occupants, and make sure it’s not unsightly for the businesses.”
Even if area businesses are apprehensive, McComas says it’s nothing they haven’t dealt with before.
“The neighbors were nervous when we built Hope Village, the neighbors were nervous when we built the Kelly Shelter, but ever since they’ve gone up the neighbors are doing really great with us,” said McComas, “the people in this campground and in those other situations, they’re not there to cause trouble, they’re there to get help.”
At the city council meeting on July 2nd, the council will be vote on whether or not they want to establish the temporary urban campground.
If approved, Rogue Retreat is hopeful the campground will be established and running by the end of July.