MEDFORD — Re-sponding to a growing problem of homelessness here, the City Council last month OK’d — with stipulations — car camping in church parking lots.
As reported by the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper, the council’s vote was unanimous.
The new ordinance allows churches to request a free permit from the city to have up to three vehicles in their parking lots each night.
Until now, it has been illegal to sleep in a vehicle overnight on the streets of Medford, although it commonly happens in the city, especially in the downtown area. Other cities, including nearby Ashland, have considered similar ordinances.
The new Medford ordinance doesn’t allow tents or other structures to be erected around vehicles and requires that the vehicles must be operable and leave the parking lot each day.
At the urging of fire officials, the new law also requires a 20-foot setback from each vehicle and a bathroom and trash container on site throughout the night. The setback was required because of the danger of fire spreading from one vehicle to the next.
According to the newspaper, some local churches that want to allow homeless people to camp in their parking lots weren’t sure they could meet the setback or bathroom requirements due to space limitations.
City Councilor Kay Brooks, who had herself experienced homelessness at one time, said she thought the ordinance, while not perfect, was a positive step.
Richelle Kellen, a 59-year-old woman now living in Medford, told the Mail Tribune that her family was living out of a vehicle just a few months ago in San Jose, Calif, after their apartment building caught fire. In Medford, she has been getting help at a local church, Set Free Christian Fellow-ship, which offers food, clothing and showers for the homeless.
Kellen said car camping at least provides a family the option of having a roof over its head, because the alternative of living on the street is far worse.
However, Chad McComas, Set Free church’s pastor and executive director of Rogue Retreat, a local ministry to the homeless, said that while he applauds the city’s effort to help the homeless, he probably won’t seek a permit to allow car camping at his church, because it might be difficult to monitor the vehicles at night.