McMinnville homeless camp gets March 31 deadline

Police calls to the church great increased from December to January

McMinnville Cooperative Ministries, Dec. 17, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) — The city of McMinnville has given a downtown homeless camp a firm deadline to disband.

If the encampment established by McMinnville Cooperative Ministries is not gone by the end of the March, the church will get hit with $500 a day in civil penalties, City Manager Martha Meeker said. “I hope they get the message that this is, no kidding, a zoning violation,” she told the Yamhill Valley News-Register.

Homeless people have been camping for about six months on the grounds of the combined Lutheran/Methodist church.

The Rev. Courtney McHill, the church’s Methodist minister, said the guests have been provided with laundry, transportation and job-placement services in an effort to put them on the road to self-sufficiency. The church has also moved the tents back from the street and provided screening for the benefit of neighbors, she said.

Meeker praised those efforts, but she said they don’t do anything about removing the tents. The co-op has had limited engagement with established helping agencies, and no private-sector solutions have emerged, she said.

Police calls to the church great increased from December to January, Meeker said.

“The neighbors are having to supervise the people in the tents,” she said. “They’re the ones who have to call the police, and the police have to take action.”

Lauri Muller, development director at the church, said the police statistics are misleading. Whenever an incident involves someone associated with the church, even it takes place elsewhere, it goes down as another black mark against the camp, Muller said.

“One person did die on our steps. But I think that speaks to the severity of the local homeless situation and the need to have a place for people,” she said.

Muller said city officials strung the church along through the winter. “They were biding their time until the weather improved so they didn’t look like jerks throwing people out,” she said.

Between 75 and 100 people met at the McMinnville Public Library last week to discuss ways to help the homeless. The meeting was organized by Howie Harkema, the operations manager of The Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas.

Harkema said city officials should have waited for a report on the session before setting the deadline.

“It seems like the city isn’t trying to collaborate with us in the same way we’re trying to cooperate with them,” he said. “The meeting shows we’re trying to coordinate some kind of solution. The city’s response is confusing when people are trying to do the right thing.”

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