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The Columbia Press

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City cracks down on neighborhood camping

Trailers sit on two private properties off Main Avenue. (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, May 9, 2019

Illegal camping has been a constant problem on the Oregon Coast, where weather is moderate, nature is everywhere and anarchy occasionally is uttered in positive tones.

“When I started in 2008, illegal camping used to consist of a random RV parked in a parking lot, a random homeless camp here or there, tents being set up in a wooded area instead of a designated campsite at Fort Stevens, or the occasional RV being used as a home on someone’s property,” Police Chief Matt Workman said. “Times have definitely changed.”

Officers, residents and business owners are shooing transient residents from neighborhoods like so many pesky flies.

“There are numerous homeless camps around the city, several (over 40 counted last year) RVs that appear to have someone living in them on private property, approximately 75 to 100 RVs being camped in overnight at the Walmart and other business properties, and on any given night a dozen or so people living in their vehicles around the Warrenton area,” Workman said.

It’s a problem borne of high housing costs, homelessness and a misguided desire to help family and friends, city officials say. But as city leaders attempt to clean up the town, illegal camping has become a target.

“Warrenton has a serious problem with illegal camping in RVs and trailers on private property,” Community Development Director Kevin Cronin said. “This is in addition to the transient camping that receives most of the attention and media coverage.”

Some residents wonder what all the fuss is about.

Kristin Steen, who lives in a condominium, has a trailer on the property that her son occasionally stays in.

“There’s trailers in everybody’s yards in Warrenton,” Steen said. “There are trailers all over Main Street and all over Hammond. Are they knocking on everybody’s door and asking if there are people living there?”

Police knocked on the door of the trailer shortly after midnight April 20 after receiving complaints and seeing a light on inside, according to a police report.

When her son answered, he told officers he didn’t care that he was breaking a city ordinance.

“It’s like setting up a tent and camping out in the back yard. We did that when we were kids,” Steen said. “It was fun. We didn’t go to the bathroom in it. We didn’t cook in it. There’s nothing plugged into the trailer. What’s the big deal? I think the cops don’t have anything to do but harass people.”

She’ll go to court in June to answer charges she’s allowing the trailer to be used as an extra bedroom.

The police chief and Cronin, the community development director, plan to ask city commissioners to revamp the camping ordinance and, perhaps, raise the $300 maximum fine.

The municipal code requires homeowners to obtain a permit when someone plans to stay in a trailer or RV on private property and the permit is good for no more than 48 hours.

“It’s becoming more of an issue for us as we struggle to clean up Warrenton,” Cronin said. “At the same time, we realize there’s a housing affordability issue.”

No one is after the homeowner who allows a relative to stay in their trailer for one or two nights, he said. The target is temporaries who become permanent.

It’s not fair to neighbors and it’s not fair to the region’s camping and hospitality industry; allowing people to camp in parks or parking lots diminishes their viability.

“Trailers and RVs are not meant for full-time living from a fire-safety standpoint, a public safety and public health issue, such as illegal campfires and the illegal dumping of waste,” Cronin said.

The recent large fire in a homeless camp and a serious assault in the wooded area behind Goodwill Industries illustrate the dangers of unregulated camping, Chief Workman said. A fatal RV fire last year at Sunset Beach shows how fast a fire can start and spread.

Police believe someone is living illegally in a travel trailer near Alternate Highway 101.

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