GOLD BEACH – A delegation from businesses have asked the county’s help in keeping homeless people from congregating at the South Coast Shopping Center in Harbor, bothering customers and creating problems for the businesses.
“This is an ongoing problem for years,” Sheriff John Bishop told the Curry County commissioners at a recent meeting. “We’re running into various roadblocks.”
The sheriff said that laws formerly used to move panhandlers and loiterers off such property have been declared unconstitutional.
He said the homeless had previously made
camps and congregated near the Chetco River bridge until the Juvenile Department cleaned up the area and removed brush.
“When you get one area cleared, they just move over,” Bishop said. “With the climate we have here, they come for the winter and stay for the summer. The problem is in Harbor.”
Commissioner Bill Waddle said these people cause problems when shoppers enter and exit the property.
“They do things to hassle customers when they visit the shops,” he said.
Commissioner David Itzen asked why they are concentrated in Harbor and not in Brookings.
“They tend to get checked on more in the city limits,” Bishop said. “There’s more brush for them to make camp sites in the Harbor area. It seems if we push to the front, they go to the back.”
Commissioner George Rhodes said there’s no easy solution.
“We don’t have the resources or can’t afford to put them in jail. There are places for them to stay, but those places have rules. They don’t want to follow the rules,” Rhodes said.
“We’re dealing with mental
health issues, drug and alcohol issues. It’s not an easy fix,” Bishop said.
Bishop said his officers would work with the merchants and the state police.
County Counsel Jerry Herbage said he would be happy to work with the sheriff to see what ordinances might be needed.
“Our county ordinances are based on the fine system, not based on jail,” Herbage said. “I question how effective it would be to fine a homeless person. It’s not an easy situation.”
Tom Schoppert, property supervisor for the shopping center, said the situation is affecting the businesses.
“What it comes down to is egress and ingress,” Schoppert said. “It’s the same group of people at the entrance. They’ll get in the way. They sit with their feet in the entrance.”
Schoppert said he had worked with ODOT and attempted to get things installed so they can’t get close to the curb. He said there is a liability issue.
“The worst part of all is the litter. We have to constantly clean up after them,” Schoppert said.
Tim McKirgan, a Rite Aid supervisor, said there’s not only the problem with panhandling, but there are problems with dogs the homeless have.
“Most recently, a customer wanted to pet a dog. The dog growled at him,” McKirgan said.
He said there have been problems with the homeless threatening to stab people in the parking lot.
“We’ve had lot of different issues at the store. One guy was washing clothes in a bucket by the entrance, standing in his underwear. They’ll come in and steal from us, a 30-pack of beer. It’s spooky there. It has a lot of influence on our business,” McKirgan said.
“People don’t want to come there. They run the gantlet,” he said.
Rhodes said the sheriff can no longer enforce a public intoxication ordinance.
“There is no public intoxication law now. It was struck down by the courts,” Bishop said. “The only thing we can do is prove that they are a threat to themselves or others. What you may feel is harassment may be on two different levels. It is an issue. We have looked at this. Every time we seem to have a fix, there’s a roadblock there.”
Bishop said that sometimes the homeless may do something that gets them taken to jail, “and they’re out in hours.”
“We’ll work with the merchants. We’ll do whatever we can with what the law will allow,” Bishop said.
He said it is not a new issue, that it just seems to get bigger.
“What we try to tell property owners is, ‘If you clean the brush, they have no place to stay at night and they tend to move on.’” Bishop said.