- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

CANNON BEACH, Ore. (AP) - A perusal of the Cannon Beach Police Department log reveals that the most common violation involves people trying to camp on public property within city limits overnight.

They run the gamut, from people crashing in recreational vehicles, trailers or cars parked on streets and sidewalks, to drifters dozing on park benches or on the beach.

“Once they’re asleep, it’s camping,” Senior Officer Joseph Bowman said. “We’ve always had campers in town; we’ll always have campers in town.”

But the summer of 2014 saw a substantial increase in incidents of unlawful camping, he said.

“For the month of August, we had 150 warnings for overnight camping,” he said. For comparison, the department issued a combined total of about 120 traffic warnings and traffic citations that same month.

The violations usually begin around 11 p.m. and continue into the early morning hours. The Second Street parking lot, Les Shirley Park and the Tolovana Wayside are among the most popular places for campers without a hotel room to settle down for the night.

During summer weekends, officers may contact anywhere from 10 to 15 campers per night, Bowman said.

During a 90-minute stretch of one of Bowman’s recent night shifts, the officer came across three overnight camping cases, and each case was different from the rest.

First, Bowman informed a transient named Nicholas that he wasn’t allowed to sleep on a bench outside the midtown public restrooms. The young man had wrapped himself in soiled blankets and a sleeping bag, and had stashed away his rusted shopping cart.

Unfortunately, Nicholas had run into problems with the law in Seaside and wasn’t welcome in the city. Seaside’s Helping Hands homeless shelter, which recently was forced by zoning regulations to reduce its intake by 75 percent, also was unavailable to him. But if he wanted to sleep, he would have to leave Cannon Beach.

“You don’t want to stereotype anybody by any means; anybody can have problems,” Bowman said. But there are some people who head into town and cause a ruckus or commit a crime, which can render them ineligible for certain services, he said.

Transients often set up makeshift camps along the highway once they’re asked to leave the city limits, he added.

“It’s very hard because, unlike larger cities, we just don’t have a lot of available options, and Helping Hands has been the best one that we’ve had,” he said.

At the Tolovana Wayside, a camper named Karla had pulled over to catch a few winks inside her car. Bowman shined his flashlight on his badge and gently rapped on her window to wake her up.

Karla had assumed that, since it was a state wayside, she was allowed to camp there. Apparently, she had missed the nearby sign saying that drivers may not park there from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

A few minutes later, the officer checked out a conversion van parked at South Hemlock and Fernwood streets. Inside was an unclothed couple, Dustin and Stephanie, who also had not paid close attention to the city’s signage.

That said, there are no signs that explicitly forbid overnight camping at Cannon Beach at the moment, Bowman said.

“So there’s not a lot telling them they can’t do it,” he said. And, in fact, there’s actually a lot of online material telling them they can do it, which makes enforcement an uphill battle. “We’ve run into several people who’ve logged onto websites that tell them that it’s OK to camp in Cannon Beach.”

Unless the lodgers have been warned multiple times, officers typically give subjects a warning and tell them where they can go, such as the north cannon viewpoint and the gravel lot just south of that.

If the officer runs into someone who’s been drinking, “in those situations, we never make them leave,” he said. “We’re not going to put someone dangerous back on the road, obviously.”

The intoxicated subject will be given permission to stay in place for the rest of the night, but they’re told that if they do it again, they’ll face a potential fine.

Overnight camping is listed as a class B violation, which carries a fine of $260; the amount may be adjusted upward or downward depending on the municipal judge’s decision.

The reasons for the ordinance - originally developed in 1986 and updated in 1989 - are essentially twofold.

First, there’s the public nuisance aspect.

Campers on the beach and in public parks often leave trash behind, including bottles in the sand. This activity poses a public health risk, as does the tendency of some overnighters to urinate and defecate on public and, sometimes, private property.

In Seaside, where the main public restrooms are locked at midnight, “there’s no facilities for them to relieve themselves, so they create an unhealthy environment,” Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross said.

Seaside’s no-overnight-camping ordinance passed in 1971 and was amended in 1991.

Then there’s the economic aspect.

Simply put, the hotels want the revenue, and hotel managers don’t believe it’s fair for visitors to be able to camp overnight in public for free, Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn said.

“In Cannon Beach, we deal with people traveling through, going from city to city, staying in their car, and, unfortunately, everyone else has to pay for a room, so why don’t they have to?” he said.

Despite the rise in overnight campers, Helping Hands hasn’t seen a corresponding increase in the number of people staying at their emergency shelter because they were escorted out of their camping spot.

“There is a small percentage of people that come to us when they’re told they can’t camp in the community because they have nowhere else to go,” said Alan Evans, Helping Hands CEO. “In our summer months, we might get two or three people a month” who came solely because they’re unlawful lodgers.

The city of Cannon Beach recently ordered eight “no camping” signs that will go up at some of the more common camping sites, including Second Street by the former sewage treatment lagoons, Second Street near the restrooms, Les Shirley Park and Tolovana Wayside, Schermerhorn said.

“Putting the signs up isn’t going to eliminate the problem, but the majority of what I hear when I contact people for camping is, ‘Well, we’re sorry. We didn’t know. We didn’t see any signs,’” Bowman said. “It would be a lot easier if I could at least point to the sign that they’re parked in front of and say, ‘Well, it’s right there.’”

___

Information from: The Daily Astorian, http://www.dailyastorian.com

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