A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Vagrancy laws stall at city council

Written March 14th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

In January 2017, a man parked his belongings outside City Hall while he went upstairs for some rest.

A proposed crackdown on crime and other problems associated with vagrancy in Albany turned into a public debate before the Albany City Council Wednesday about what to do — and not to do — about the homeless.

The upshot: The council postponed until March 28 final action on four new city laws proposed by the police department, including a citywide camping ban on public property, and an exclusion zone from which the city court could banish for up to a year people convicted of three offenses within the zone. The zone would measure nine-tenths of a square mile and cover the central part of town from Elm to Pine Street and from the Willamette River to Pacific Boulevard, Albany Station, and 11th Avenue.

Property owners and residents along the riverfront urged the council to pass the proposals. They told stories of having to deal with troublemakers and cleaning up after them. The speakers had spent money and effort upgrading their properties and surroundings, and they worried about the downgrading effects of vagrancy, such as trash, noise, drug use, and generally bad behavior including fights.

Arguing against the measures were a group of social-justice warriors who urged the council to consider that the homeless were, foremost, human beings. Sure, they cause some trouble, but most of them can’t help themselves. An exclusion zone might keep them from getting to the church-run soup kitchens downtown where they get their meals.

Council rules require unanimous consent for passing ordinances at one meeting, and motions to pass the camping ban and exclusion  zone failed on that score. They will come again at the council’s next regular meeting. Ordinances dealing with parking violations and abandoned vehicles got the same treatment and also will come up again on March  28.

The council did enact an ordinance spelling out how abandoned and vacant houses have to be secured in order to keep them from becoming drug dens and squatters’ lairs.

Pretty much lost in the discussion was that the exclusion zone — the police call it an “enhanced law enforcement area” modeled after an ordinance adopted in Ashland — is targeted not at the homeless generally but at people who have been convicted of three offenses within the zone over a period of six months. And the camping ban was prompted by the amount of refuse, and sometimes human waste, that is typically left behind at the more popular camping spots.

Anybody who doubts that steps have to be taken should google “homeless in Orange County” and look at the videos that come up. (hh)

17 responses to “Vagrancy laws stall at city council”

  1. Rodger Asai says:

    The HAVES criminalizing being a HAVE NOT.

    Microcosm of a Nation that creates the conditions for there to be a bunch of refugees and then insists dealing with refugee issues is not their responsibility.

    Who ever grew up hoping to be a Homeless person? These are victims not criminals. Creating laws so that citations can be issued – so that they will look like criminals on paper – does not change that they reflect societal (via government) failure.

  2. Rich Kellum says:

    In order to be excluded a person must commit 3 NEW offenses, all within the district, they then go to court, the judge CAN exclude them for a period of time, but they can still go into the district for specific things, which include but are not limited to, DR apt, court dates, church services, etc. the list has not been fully completed…

    • Rodger Asai says:

      Mr. Kellum,
      I don’t understand why Albany wants to become more like Ferguson, MO.
      Laws which are conducive to selective enforcement (violation of Constitution which LE is sworn to uphold) are to be avoided not replicated.
      I am reminded of something I learned in school here, back in the ’60s. A quote from Sen. Ervin, “I judge the wisdom of a law – not by what a good man might do with it – but rather with what a bad man can.”

  3. Denita Weatherby says:

    This is not a good idea. You plan to police these areas more aggressively because the homeless are an ‘unsightly ‘ and embarrassing problem for our newly revamped multi million dollar downtown area. The homeless have always been here noticed but ignored. We don’t have money to provide the basic needs for these unfortunate people, a large percentage of them being veterans. However we do have plenty of money to enhance the historical beauty and charm of our downtown area.

  4. Rodger Asai says:

    Possible ordinance to replace improper ones which target the low-hanging fruit.

    Given Albany’s self-proclaimed pro-Veteran stance including “largest Veterans Day Parade West of…” the City Council could give us an ordinance for displaying the National Flag in an improper / disrespectful manner.

    It is improper to post (display) a soiled, faded, frayed, torn or otherwise damaged Flag. I was first introduced to these basics as a Crossing Guard at Liberty Grade School back in the 1960’s. How can one begin most events with the Pledge of Allegiance (to the Flag) and allow reckless disregard for the basic rules for its care and posting?

    Suggested fine for the offense: $532.11 (an amount equal to a penny for every Albany resident – since prominent disrepect of the Flag refelcts poorly on the entire community (for allowing it).

    On the third offense, the property will be seized by the City and then can be added to the City’s array of Shelters (Womens’, Homeless, etc.).

    This should more than cover the loss of revenue from questionably enforced laws like the Photo Red Light and new ones being proposed.

    There will, of course, need to be a carve-out for buildings like WAHS which is currently (improperly) displaying a torn Flag.

  5. Bob Woods says:

    A very thorny issue, but please remember a few things.

    1) Cops are not solving the problem, because that’s not their job. They are just dealing with symptoms as best they can.

    2) If the target area becomes better, it is likely that the problems have moved elsewhere in the city. Even if they move out of the city, they will be back eventually..

    3) Solutions are incredibly hard. No one solution exists, and even multiple solutions may only work for a while, because people have a habit of adapting. There is no permanent solution.

    4) Whether it’s cops or other options it all costs more money. People have a way of refusing to spend money until a disaster hits, and then they say “Why didn’t anyone do something before?”

    The Council has to choose, and people should thoughtfully engage to try and figure it out.

  6. James Engel says:

    How’s this, for those of you so passionate about the “homeless problem” PLEASE take one home to live in your yard! You could instill in them social values like “clean up your space” and “if you want you work”…. simple ideas the rest of us law abiding citizens do already. This P.C tripe about…”Sure they cause trouble but most of them can’t help themselves.” Let’em do it in your yard & you deal with it!

    • Rodger Asai says:

      Over the past several years – since my return to Albany – I have tried to do my share in picking the slack where my City has failed to meet the needs of this segment of our population.

      I have not kept strict records, but there have been a dozen or so homeless people (just 1 or two at a time) who I invited in for a few days respite from their troubles. Time to get some deep REM sleep, get caught up on laundry, be out of the weather, have some simple sit-down meals, etc.

      Given the City’s population now over 50,000 – I think I have done my share. Those that aren’t willing to practice a “do unto others” approach to community living need to press the City Council to treat the causes as well as the symptoms.

  7. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    There are only three things city government can do when it comes to behavior like camping on public property – prohibit, permit, or promote.

    Prohibiting camping on public property seems like a reasonable action, unless the city council approves camping permits (with a fee, of course) as a possible revenue source. The fee should at least cover the cost of garbage pickup. Squatters without a posted permit can then be rousted by APD.

    Since the city doesn’t issue “promotes”, I assume free camping on public property is out of the question.

  8. Keri McKenzie says:

    Travelers, homeless people, parents with small children, disabled people and people who are tempirarily away from their homes need places to rest urinate, defecate, and sometimes even vomit. If the sight of sick, disabled or homeless people offends or scares you, it is your problem, not theirs. Excluding people from public restrooms, and then expecting NOT to find human waste in public places is ridiculous. That is why cvilized countries and cities provide public sanitation. Period. . If you are fortunate enough to not be homeless, disabled, or just desperately in need of relief, try considering your rself blessed – – instead of somehow morally superior.

  9. Steve Reynolds says:

    Recently took the Amtrak up to Portland. It is absolutely heart breaking to see the destruction of the environment and the public areas along this scenic route. The filth and pollution that has accumulated in this once beautiful Rose city is apocalyptic. I hear much about the “rights” of the individual that “can’t help themselves ” or control their actions, but what about the concept of individual rights stopping where another individual’s rights start? Why is it the right of those that “can’t help themselves” to destroy public assets outweigh the rights of those that would preserve those assets? Destroying my trees, spray painting the walls of my public buildings, throwing trash onto my roadway, polluting my rivers and forests. Part of being a “human being” is acting like a human being, self awareness, able to make choices between right and wrong based on community standards.

    I know of a very intelligent individual, with first hand knowledge, that once said he is convinced the programs exist for those that wish to use them, most either refuse to use the programs or are not capable (both self inflicted and circumstances outside their control). I just do not buy the argument that we have to destroy our community and live in fear of crime and drugs just so we can say we’re compassionate…we’re allowing them to be “human beings”. Where does the line exist between the individual that destroys and the one that preserves?

    • Rodger Asai says:

      Sorry about so many posts, but the majority of the folks who are being discussed here – do not have easy access to this forum.

      Most of us are familiar with the concept “it takes a community”. Albany needs to decide if it wants to be a community that destroys lives and then abandons them or one that cultivates strong independent ones and helps restore the damaged ones.

      This current trend toward callous disregard and disdain for certain “others” is not the Albany I grew up in – and certainly not the one I served to protect way back when.

      P.S. It’s J.C. not P.C.

      • Steve Reynolds says:

        “This current trend toward callous disregard and disdain for certain “others” is not the Albany that I grew up in”

        Rodger, I understand you want to help, but this community is anything but callous. Almost every election cycle this community is asked to make more and more sacrifices. Many families have put their own welfare on the back burner in order to allocate their limited resources to public causes. They’re not out buying new cars or painting their homes or even replacing a roof that needs replacing. They’re buying new police stations, new fire stations, $159 million in brand new school upgrades, upgrading LBCC, people in this community are making sacrifices for the good of the entire community. Have you ever heard of anyone that has walked into CSC or DHS or any of the housing resources and been turned away when they have indicated they want to make their life better? You can walk into LBCC with no $$$ and they’ll train you for “free” because the citizens of Albany/Linn have chosen to make this program available, they’re sacrificing.

        The fact is, you don’t like the rules that certain agencies have set, you want a carte blanche system that says we are going to provide resources no matter what your behaviour is. Like I said before, rights are limited by the rights of others.

        • Rodger Asai says:

          “The fact is, you don’t like the rules that certain agencies have set, you want a carte blanche system that says we are going to provide resources no matter what your behaviour is. ”

          I don’t see how you arrived at that fact.

          Here are a couple of facts about today’s APD as enabled by today’s City Council:

          1) Unable or unwilling to investigate its backlog of sex crimes. See Sep 26, 2013 ADH article title2, Police officer suing city of Albany.

          and see Oct 16, 2016 Corvallis Advocate article titled, Albany Police Corruption Ruins Cop’s Career.

          2) Provided false and materially misleading information to City Council in order to obtain an (improper) early renewal of the Photo Red Light contract with Redflex – shortly after Redflex CEO pleaded guilty to Federal Bribery (and other) charges. See Apr 27, 2016 City Council Meeting on its YouTube Channel.

          And in answer to: “Have you ever heard of anyone that has walked into CSC or DHS or any of the housing resources and been turned away when they have indicated they want to make their life better?”

          Yes, several instances – directly. I believe many residents will remember seeing a man with a sign telling about his difficulties with DHS at the corner of Pacific & Hill – a year ago and he was working as a guard in the area at the time.

          • Steve Reynolds says:

            Your focus seems to be perceived issues with the Albany Police Department and some of the other agencies that are working on this issue. Perhaps we should look into re-branding for the 21st century, how about the Albany Peace Department or the Albany Conflict Mitigation Department? How does the ACMD sound?

    • GregB says:

      Well said Steve Reynolds.

      • Rodger Asai says:

        Mr. Reynolds,
        You state the matter exactly backwards.
        “By Steve Reynolds on March 17, 2018 – 11:00 am
        Your focus seems to be perceived issues with the Albany Police Department and some of the other agencies that are working on this issue.”

        The examples I gave are ACTUAL clearly documented (by others) history of the APD – which the City Council is allowing to continue.

        The City Council / Manager / Attorney continue to support the incomprehensible slow-footing of Rape and Sexual Abuse investigations by the APD in favor of entertaining the notion that the solution to the ills of the City has something to do with people going to the bathroom in public when there are no public facilities provided.

        I do not need to be the parent or personal friend of a Rape victim to believe that those are the kind of crimes more worthy of applying our resources to – especially since the longer those perpetrators remain at large – the more such behavior can be expected.


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