A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A homeless crisis and vagrancy troubles

Written July 13th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

A field of trash next to a vagrant camp along Cox Creek in northeast Albany on July 11.

Two sides of Albany’s homeless problem came up before the city council Wednesday night in the form of pleas for help. But it did not look like any form of concrete help would come.

One side of the problem is that people are forced to sleep in their cars because they’ve lost their place to live. These people need a place to park their vehicles overnight.

Carol Davies, a representative of COAT, the Community Outreach Assistance Team of the Creating Housing Coalition, asked the council for help in creating an overnight parking space.

The lack of such parking has become a crisis, she said, because Albany’s two homeless shelters are full. And, she said, the police have been conducting sweeps of city parks to enforce the law against overnight parking there.

If council members had any ideas, I didn’t hear them. But the mayor asked Davies to speak to the city’s affordable housing task force, which meets occasionally.

The other side of the problem is not so much homelessness alone as it is vagrancy and law breaking, trashing public and private property, and bothering residents or the public.

A property owner whose yard backs up to an out-of-the way corner of Waverly Memorial Cemetery in northeast Albany complained to the council of the behavior of vagrants carousing behind his house, using foul language and leaving trash and feces on his property line. His house is in Millersburg, and the cemetery is in Albany.

Police Chief Marcia Harnden said officers respond to the address frequently and make arrrests when warranted. But the problem evidently has continued. And while the police do what they can, in her view it’s not strictly a law enforcement problem but a community problem.

Another man told stories of similar trouble on the Simpson Park Trail, an area long plagued by improvised camps and occasional trouble with and among vagrants.

The council was told that Albany just got an unexpected state grant of $250,000 to help with things like trash disposal from homeless camps. But evidently the money can’t be used for getting rid of the camps themselves.

Councilor Bessie Johnson wondered if the city could force private properties, like the cemetery, to clear the brush where vagrants hang out. And, she said, “Why can’t we just move them?”

Councilor Matila Novak said she was “at a loss. This is big stuff. There has to be something we can do.”

The discussion ended without anyone coming up with what that something might be. (hh)

9 responses to “A homeless crisis and vagrancy troubles”

  1. Bob Woods says:

    People have no housing available, so they live in their cars as they continue to try and work.

    Answer: More affordable housing and higher wages. Available housing is constrained by supply. Affordable housing is constrained by income. Income is floored by the minimum wage. The minimum wage must be high enough to provide the income to pay for available housing.

    The answer is that available housing must exceed demand by about 15 to 20%. Enough surplus to tamp down price, but not so much to exceed supply.

    Developers are not evil. They just need to make sure that the housing they build is supported by the market that is affordable.

    • MarK says:

      A more affordable solution is a bus ticket to Seattle or San Francisco for any “overflow” from the shelters.

    • Abe Cee says:

      What you seem to really be wanting is for developers to build things that cost less (ie: “more affordable to people with lower incomes”) when they can’t build things fast enough regardless of the price they charge. It seems that what developers build is supported by the market as they keep selling as soon as they are available otherwise there would be a surplus or they would charge less.

      An alternative that should be considered is for non-site built homes (manufactured/ADU style/etc) to be available in the market but that usually carries negative stereotype images in people’s minds and still takes available land that could be used for other building types.

      • Bob Woods says:

        Builders absolutely build for the market segment they choose to target. There is some variety, but they’re smart and they look at facts and figures on local incomes and where the market demand is

        Minimum Wage – $13.50 per hour – Standard – Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Wasco, Yamhill, and parts of Clackamas, Multnomah, & Washington outside the urban growth boundary.

        So if you work 40 hrs a week @ $13.50 = $540 a week or about $2340 a month BEFORE taxes and other expenses, so roughly $1715 net after taxes

        From Rent,com Average Rent in Albany, OR Avg. Rent /Annual Change
        1 Bed – $1,475 +32%
        2 Beds – $1,750 +32%
        3 Beds – $1,975

        You can’t live on a single minimum wage in Albany. Or anywhere.

        • Abe Cee says:

          The problem with your numbers is the assumption that developers want to build for low prices when the majority are doing just the opposite. The vast majority will likely build for the highest price they can get to maximize profits because they know homes will sell regardless of the minimum wage of the area.

          • Bob Woods says:

            You missed my point Abe. It’s not about developers, It’s about not being paid enough to be able to afford a reasonable place to rent where you can lay your head at night.

            Look, we keep coming up with ways to subsidize/incentivize developers to provide below-market-rate housing, which is never enough. Or we give vouchers to cover most of the cost to the poor.

            The REAL ANSWER is that everyone who works 40 hours a week gets paid enough to have a place to sleep, buy enough food to live, pay their basic bills, and gets medical care to survive.

            Then you hopefully don’t need government programs. Put the onus on the business owners to pay a real living wage, not the taxpayers.

  2. David Cross says:

    The title below the name of this page is: “A Perspective from Oregon’s Mid Willamette Valley”, I would like to read what the author’s perspective is regarding forms of concrete help with this issue confronting every Albany citizen.

  3. Rusty S. says:

    Hasso, would you say a city government even has the resources and structural oversight for doing more than short-term fixes in this area of concern? At the local level, can we really do more than put a temporary band-aid on it, and then ten years from now we’re back to the same problem? This is not to say a municipality can’t take some measures to facilitate solutions, but aren’t there more fundamental societal issues at hand here that we wouldn’t have the capability of finding real, long-lasting solutions to? It seems like any efforts a community might do would essentially amount to kicking the can down the road, and then continually addressing it as a significant issue. The fact that rampant homelessness is endemic in our country suggests there are deep-rooted causes which can’t be changed with the more incidental efforts to be found at the local level. And if Salem, Eugene, and Portland were to lag behind from any successes we might temporarily see, we would likely still inherit their problems by run-off as we have been doing, due to proximity. What are your thoughts?

  4. michael quinn says:

    they key to hasso’s blog this time is the UNEXPECTED grant from stae for $250,000.00 watch how this disappears, opps staff time to have a UNEXPECTED CONSULTANT and staff will have many meetings over how to just go out and clean it up, lets see how they use the UNEXPECTED grant, bye bye tax dollars.


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