Sheriff Addresses Homeless Encampment Near River

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[quote style=”2″]Sheriff Says Public Getting Fed Up with Encampment[/quote]

The following is a statement from Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan issued Friday, March 4:

For the past few weeks, our office, the Umatilla County Planning Department, the Board of Commissioner’s Office, and other police agencies in the area have received several complaints from the public about an encampment of people who have set up tents and are living on county property along Umatilla River Road. Citizens also tell us they will not use the river for fishing and other legal activities because of the debris and garbage at the site, and the mere presence of the campers. Clearly, the public wants the encampment removed.

Several of our patrol deputies, our agency chaplain, code enforcement personnel and officers from the Umatilla Police Department have visited the encampment numerous times. Currently, the campers are trespassing and littering on the property. Our personnel have encouraged them to voluntarily leave the property, of which they have no legal claim. We have provided them with information about local service organizations, both public and private, who can and will offer food, shelter, health and mental health services to this population.

Although we could have legally removed them from the property within a few days, we have chosen to be mindful and respectful of their situations and have issued warnings instead of arrests, with the caveat that they must leave the property by a certain date. We worked with the planning department to develop a plan to clear and clean the property, and return it to the public. This “kid glove” approach has allowed the campers numerous opportunities to voluntarily leave the property and make other arrangements. Initially, we began to see fewer campers at the location. But recently, the numbers have grown and we now have information about two additional encampments in Umatilla County.

There is not enough space on this page to discuss all the potential public safety and health issues related to homelessness and homeless encampments, or the causes and associated factors, or the solutions to these problems. As a law enforcement agency, the safety of all who are involved, including the public and the campers is our first priority.

Studies have shown that there is a strong relationship between homelessness and criminality. Case in point: all of the persons our deputies contacted yesterday at the Umatilla encampment have criminal histories, some extensive; some are convicted felons; some have arrest warrants from other jurisdictions; one has a protection order against them from a previous domestic assault case. In relation to the general public, studies also show that there are higher rates of many types of serious crimes, and drug dealing and drug use in these encampments. The neighborhoods and communities around these camps also see an increase in thefts, burglary, panhandling, and noise and disturbance calls.

Additionally, the environment can also be polluted and negatively impacted by litter, infectious waste and other hazardous materials, human waste, and the potential for fires. Unsanitary health and hygiene conditions, poor food safety conditions, which can spread disease, also create public health problems.

These are just a few reasons why we can no longer allow this situation to continue. We must be responsive to the communities we serve. We are hopeful for the voluntary cooperation of the campers. We have been sensitive to their situations, but the law, public health and safety, and the wishes of our citizens must prevail. We are also hopeful that the local communities will continue to explore ways to help, and we will offer to help in any way we can.