Help Occupy Roseburg keep the heat on!‏

Last May we sent out a ROPnet describing Occupy Roseburg’s incredible success fighting a proposed “exclusion zone” that would unfairly target folks who appear to be low-income in downtown Roseburg, all while they continued to do their community-building work of their weekly Feed the Burg potluck.  For those of you who would like the refresher, click here to reread that story!

Last Saturday, Occupy Roseburg celebrated their 100th consecutive weekly Feed the Burg community potluck AND Occupy Roseburg’s two year anniversary  Occupy Roseburg organizer Gary Harris describes what their work has looked like over the last two years: “we continue to see Feed the Burg evolve into more and more beautiful things, and we aren’t done yet. We hope one day to throw a Feed the Burg party and no one shows up because there’s no longer a need.”

Help Occupy Roseburg celebrate two years of tireless organizing by making a phone call today!  After a lot of great organizing (read the entire story below!), the City of Roseburg is simply stalling Occupy Roseburg after agreeing to make a legalized homeless camp a City Council agenda item.  Please call Roseburg’s City Manager, Lance Colley, at 541-492-6866 to let him know that it’s time for a legalized homeless camp to be on the City Council agenda!

After nearly two years of close collaboration with the local homeless community, Occupy Roseburg has identified getting a legalized homeless camp in downtown Roseburg as a #1 priority.  Last June, they convened a groundbreaking community conversation around the need for a legal encampment, including a roundtable of folks from successful homeless camps and services around the state, including Right 2 SurviveRight 2 Dream Too, Sisters of the Road Cafe, and Opportunity Village.  Each organization utilizes different tactics and strategies to empower and create sustainable communities, but all emphasize the values of human dignity and self-determination.  The evening wrapped up with a presentation from a local community health clinic worker explaining the dire circumstances he sees as he travels around rural Douglas County trying to get folks desperately needed services, naming how bad things are in Douglas County — and they are bad.  The forum attendees broke up into two committees; one to research possible campsites, the other to research the legal aspects of what it means to take and hold a space for legal campsite.The forum was a success!  Not only did they convene a powerful community conversation, but they also got a great front-page article in their local paper!
Occupy Roseburg front-page article

Soon after the forum, the City announced that it intended to privatize a public downtown park featuring a historic building, proposing the property should become a bed and breakfast.  They wanted to sell the property to someone who would maintain it, so Occupy Roseburg, determined as ever after their forum, decided to make a proposal to the City Council: lease us the park for $1 to create a legalized homeless camp and we will make sure it is maintained.  They let their friendly local reporter know their plan, who quickly wrote up a story, and soon several City Councilors had their own thoughts on the matter that they shared with the local paper prior to the meeting, including:

“Councilman Marty Katz said the city should not get involved in providing shelter for the homeless. ‘I am not sure that falls within our responsibility,’ he said.”

August 26th, Occupy Roseburg went to the Roseburg City Council with the entire town abuzz.  Unable to get on the agenda, they spoke during the public comment period for a total of 30 minutes, each sharing their ideas and vision, finishing to supportive applause.  Each speaker addressed many points, including the criticism that many of the organizers live outside of Roseburg city limits, and, of course, the age-old rhetoric around “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”  Here is a snippet from what ROP board member and Occupy Roseburg organizer Dancer Davis said:

“Rural Oregonians are hardworking, fiercely independent, family-oriented, compassionate, and generally make great neighbors.  Communities like Roseburg, which serves as our county seat, comprise the largest population pockets and contain the most resources.  The economy of Roseburg also relies on the business owners and consumers who may not lay their heads down here at night but very much are a part of this town.  Many residents of tiny towns in the outlying areas of Douglas County travel to Roseburg daily.  We come to work, for school, to shop, to eat at restaurants, to purchase fuel or building supplies, or to visit the doctor or dentist. We are part of the fabric of the community.  As the largest city in Douglas County, Roseburg is more known and more visible than some of the smaller towns.  Accordingly, its problems are also more visible.

Roseburg has a problem with homelessness as do cities of its size all over the nation.  America is experiencing a severe economic crisis and has been for the last several years.  This problem has been a long time coming and has been created by 30 years of ongoing cuts to funding for moderate- to low-income housing and social services.  This problem was not created overnight and will not be solved overnight.  These problems were created by government and please listen closely, we are not asking government to solve it. We are simply asking government to acknowledge it and to assist us as citizens in developing solutions.

Council members and the Mayor have stated a camp would be a disaster and would destroy Roseburg.  I’m here to tell you I agree, it is a disaster and it is already here.  There are numerous camps all over the city already although most are concentrated in the downtown area.  What you Council members and downtown business owners’ fear is already here.  Doesn’t it make more sense both economically and morally to acknowledge the truth of the problem and to utilize all of our attributes as rural Oregonians to work together to find a creative and compassionate solution?

Let us engage with the homeless members of our community, let us encourage and appreciate the voices of those who wish to help them create a safe place to be while they work toward reentering our communities as productive, contributing members.  Let’s not continue to force people to live their lives in public and then condemn, shame, and criminalize them for doing the things that all humans require such as sleeping or relieving themselves.  Believe me, no rational human being wants to live that way.  And yes some of the folks out on the streets are not rational, but again this problem was created by government over 30 years ago when, as a nation, we gutted our mental health system and replaced it with something that is clearly not working.  It is time to face the truth: the disaster we fear in already here.  But are we not rural Oregonians; hard working, fiercely independent, family-oriented, compassionate and make great neighbors?  Let’s demonstrate that by working together to create a solution we can all live with.

There wasn’t a single negative or unsupportive comment the entire meeting — no organized opposition whatsoever!  In fact, there were plenty more folks who were ready to speak in support but didn’t have the opportunity as the City Council closed down the public comment period. The Mayor asked organizer Jeri Benedetto if she would meet with the City Manager who would get a better scope of their ideas and make sure the proposal of a legalized camp made it onto a future City Council agenda.  Occupy Roseburg appreciatively took the City up on their offer!

The old addage is, first they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.  True enough, the next morning, Occupy Roseburg woke up to two pieces of shocking news:
1.  An editorial ran in the local paper accusing Occupy Roseburg of abusing the public comment period for simply using it, despite the fact that they followed every rule to the letter.  It was announced that the City Council was reviewing their policy on the public comment period and considering removing it from meetings all together.
2.  Ten folks were cited for illegal camping during the night, a pattern that has become all too familiar to Occupy Roseburg.  Jeri sent this comment to the local paper:

“While we were very pleased with the turnout at last night’s City Council meeting, I am dismayed that during the night, 10 citations for illegal camping were issued at two different sites.  That is an inordinate number.  It has not gone unnoticed that this kind of ‘sweep’ always occurs just after Occupy has appeared before the City Council on behalf of the homeless.  And to what purpose?  It is a mean-spirited attempt through punishing the downtrodden to force us to quit our efforts to establish a safe and legal campsite.  Whoever is responsible for this harassment should be ashamed of themselves.  It is bullying behavior at the least.  As I said last night, we have a dream and we’re not giving up.”

True to their word, Occupy Roseburg met with the City Manager, Lance Colley, who said that with a little more research he would add a legalized homeless camp to the City Council agenda.  Organizers left feeling energized and excited!  They felt like the City was negotiating in good faith!Soon they began to politely ask for status updates.  Nearly two months later, Occupy Roseburg still haven’t heard a word from his office.  They can’t even get him on the phone.

Jeri writes, “I am very disappointed and angry.  Again this week I called the City Manager’s office and was told he was in another meeting.  Again I left word asking him to call me with an update on the homeless campground for the winter.  Again I have had no response from Mr. Colley.  I truly gave him the benefit of the doubt when it came to being heard and considered with respect to this issue becoming an agenda item for the City Council.  We have provided information to the public on this matter since June.  Here it is, October with winter hard on our heels.  I can only come to the conclusion that the City has been stalling us.  Please call Lance Colley’s office at 541-492-6866 and politely encourage him to make a decision about our getting the campsite on the City Council’s agenda. Thank you.”

Here is your opportunity to engage in some good, old fashioned collective action: give Lance Colley a call at 541-492-6866 and ask him to put a legalized homeless camp on the City Council agenda!  Can’t reach him?  Neither can we!  Ask to leave a message.  Together we can elevate this issue and make it a newfound priority for the City Manager to put this on the Roseburg City Council’s agenda!