Homeless camping ban approved

The Keizer City Council voted unanimously to ban camping on sidewalks, public property and public rights-of-way with the adoption of an ordinance at its meeting Monday, Jan. 6. 

The move follows similar action taken by the City of Salem in December and is directed at the city’s homeless residents. Keizer did not experience an increase in camping since the ordinance was passed in Salem, but Keizer police officers have encountered more homeless people known to frequent Salem moving around the streets of Keizer, said Lt. Andrew Copeland, of the Keizer Police Department. 

Prior to the vote, several members of the community testified in opposition to the action without implementing other supports for homeless residents, a smaller number supported it (See related story, Public testimony below). 

“We have people with mobility issues and being able to travel by foot is essential. It’s a safety and equity issue. This is not just for a particular segment of community, it’s for the entire community,” said Mayor Cathy Clark. 

Councilor Elizabeth Smith said the action was “not an attack, this is the beginning of a conversation. I have no intention of turning away from this conversation. If you have an idea to bring to the table, bring it.”

Councilor Laura Reid asked if passing the ordinance would do more “shuffling than solving” of the homelessness problem. 

“It will continue to maintain the status quo. If we don’t pass this ordinance we may very well have people laying claim to sidewalks and rights-of-way,” responded Keizer Police Chief John Teague. 

Councilor Dan Kohler asked if the ordinance would be a useful tool for police officers. 

“If someone is sleeping on the sidewalk, we’ll ask them to make the sidewalk passable. If they are claiming they possess as section of the sidewalk, this prevents that. If it becomes a problem we cannot solve, we will send them to the judge,” Teague replied.

Unlike an earlier draft of the ordinance included in packets leading up to the meeting, the ordinance adopted Monday grants police and code enforcement officers the ability to cite offenders and impose a fine of up to $500. The earlier draft only said camping sites on public rights-of-way could be removed. 

Councilor Marlene Parsons was visibly distraught when asked about her stance on the ordinance and appeared to be holding back tears. 

“I appreciate everyone coming tonight. Know that we are proactive and we will try to do our best to help people get out from under the circumstances they are in,” she said. 

Councilor Roland Herrera said he was committed to following up on alternatives to camping or designated camping sites. 

“I know there is a balance in finding solutions, but I think it starts with having rules,” Herrera said.