Astoria community members say ‘things are better’ 6 months after camping ban

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 5:32 PM PDT
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ASTORIA, Ore. (KPTV) - The City of Portland is now set to ban daytime camping but they’re not the first city in Oregon to do so.

The Astoria City Council passed a similar ordinance in November to try and tackle the crisis in their community. For those who live and work in the city since daytime camping was banned between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., say they’ve noticed a dramatic difference in terms of sidewalk accessibility, cleanliness and safety. The community members FOX 12 spoke with said this isn’t a permanent solution to the homeless crisis but they said it’s a way to set boundaries.

Andrea McDermed is one of those community members FOX 12 talked to on Thursday. She owns Gizmo’s Arcade & Eatery in the heart of Downtown.

“Over a year ago, our entire façade, people would be sitting all day long because we have awnings on the building,” McDermed said. “Definitely, during the rainy winter, we would get people packed up. It was really bad. Enough that customers would comment on it.”

A video taken around March last year shows dozens of people camping out next to her business. She said it was hard running a business for families and tourists when there were people using drugs and screaming profanities right outside of her windows. But after the city passed the daytime camping ban, the campers went away and McDermed said she got her business back. She credits the ordinance with bringing back positive energy to downtown Astoria.

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“Beyond just having the presence of homeless people that are still about and walk around, at least they’re not putting up tents or tarps during the daytime so it is better,” McDermed said.

Astoria’s City Manager, Scott Spence, was hired after the ordinance passed last year but said it gives parameters of where camping is allowed.

“There was growing visibility of homelessness. Like most cities, we do not have enough resources to respond to people that are finding themselves houseless,” Spence said.

He said these parameters have created a positive impact for the community.

“It’s not necessarily a solution -- it’s a response to the homeless community,” Spence said. “It does provide proactive engagement with the homeless community. At the end of the day, we are trying to find services for those people who cannot find a house or struggling with other issues.

Spence said many of the unhoused understand the rules and move when they’re asked. Rarely people are cited. He said to solve the homeless crisis in communities across Oregon, the state government needs to lead the charge to find solutions.

“I think the 36 counties and the 241 cities and towns, we struggle without a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with this,” Spence said.

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McDermed knows her local daytime camping ban isn’t the solution, but something needed to be done to strike balance between helping the homeless community and helping local businesses thrive in the city.

“The daytime ban seems like a good compromise in the interim until we can make more housing and more shelter beds available,” McDermed said. “It feels like the best compromise we can make.”

FOX 12 did reach out to two of Astoria’s homeless outreach organizations, the Astoria Rescue Mission and Clatsop County Community Action, for comment about the ordinance, but we didn’t hear back.