The city shelter code should not permit low-barrier shelters in residential zones.
The council passed a shelter code which fails to recognize that people are homeless for many reasons. Local studies estimate that between 40 – 50% of the homeless are working folks who don’t earn enough money to afford Bend’s high cost of rent. This is a housing issue, which Bend can promote by copying the programs of other cities.
Those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness need to be encouraged to seek help in high-barrier shelters, which are dedicated to transitioning people to a better life. Such shelters offer a pathway to self-sufficiency through compassion and responsibility. Bethlehem Inn and St. Vincent’s Place are good examples.
For those who refuse such help, the city should provide low-barrier shelters in specific dedicated areas, located so that the residents’ problems will not negatively impact local businesses or neighborhoods. Camping on public property anywhere else in the city should be prohibited and should carry consequences.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has constrained how cities can respond when people camp illegally on public property. The city cannot criminally cite the individual unless it can offer a shelter bed appropriate to that person’s needs. But it can create consequences for those who are offered appropriate shelter but refuse and continue to camp on public property.
Boise, Idaho Municipal Code 7-3A-3 requires the police to call shelters at 11 p.m. every night to determine whether suitable shelter beds are available for that person. If they are, the refusal to leave public property constitutes a misdemeanor which carries up to 6 months in jail.