Linn County Commissioners Council Tuesday, January 4, delayed the transfer of ownership of the 2.68-acre property deemed a homeless compound to Sweet Home.
While the county currently owns the property, which was excavated from the former Weyerhauser / Willamette Industries factory site, the city is keen to repossess it for its local homeless complex.
Sweet Home officials described the planned encampment as a temporary shelter complex where people can stay in Conestoga-style huts that look like wagons – each with a door, window and lockable storage container.
In a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, Sweet Home City Councilor Angelita Sanchez said she had unanswered questions about the transfer.
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“I have expressed concerns to city council that have been dismissed and I want to know who is responsible for what,” she said at the hearing.
Sanchez wants an economic impact study done on the property to determine the effects a homeless shelter in the area would have on surrounding properties. Voters have contacted her to worry about the impact of the camp on the value of their property.
She asked whether it was the county’s responsibility to conduct such a study or that of the city, to which the county commissioners and legal department responded, it’s the city.
âI hear your concerns about land use, but it’s a city issue,â Commissioner Will Tucker said.
County prosecutor Gene Karandy confirmed that the commissioners could not require any study for the transfer of the property.
“I don’t think you would have the power, to my knowledge, to make a decision that falls under another municipal authority,” he said.
Commissioners described the issue as a larger issue about the homelessness crisis and how local towns tend to have their hands tied when it comes to limited resources and legal actions. .
â(The biggest problem) is that in communities across the country, people are having the same conversations about homelessness and offering the same opportunitiesâ¦ and dealing with the situation,â said Commissioner Roger Nyquist. “The only constant is that the need continues to grow and, at the local level, the city and county do not have the resources.”
Federal court rulings based on lawsuits in Boise and Grants Pass, in 2019 and 2020 respectively, complicate the issue. In those landmark decisions, appellate judges ruled that city governments cannot fine, arrest, or encroach on homeless people for sleeping in public, especially if there is no publicly funded shelter or other place to go.
âI appreciate that the city is between a rock and a hard place,â Tucker told Sanchez. âYour actions are to be commended. â¦ Having a place to take them is amazing, so people stop sleeping on the porches on cold nights.
Other Sweet Home officials have described this as precisely why swift action is needed to transfer ownership and build the homeless camp.
Even still, the commissioners decided to delay the decision to give Sweet Home time to decide whether it wishes to seek grants or other sources of funding for the property. On a motion from Tucker, the board decided to put the matter aside and deal with the land transfer after city council members had more time to approach their strangers.
Troy Shinn covers health care, natural resources, and Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or at [email protected] He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn.