Michael ‘Rev’ Parker leaned against his car on Thursday at his campsite on China Hat Road.
Like all of the other campers there, he was given a notice on June 2 from the U.S. Forest Service, which left him surprised.
“They came in, there was about 15 or 20 of them and they drove around giving everyone these papers saying they all had to be out by the 28th or the 30th or something like that,” he said.
The citations specified that campers must cease camping in the Deschutes National Forest land by the end of the month, or else receive a violation.
“They were pretty mean about it,” Parker continued. “We’re all asking them where we’re supposed to go, what we’re supposed to do, and they’re like ‘we have no answers.’”
Another camper, Christopher Grummons, has lived in the camp since October. He was frustrated by the lack of empathy he witnessed from those giving out the notices.
“A lot of the people, when they came out here, were like ‘okay so where do we go?’ and they were like, ‘not our problem, figure it out.’ That’s what they told us, word for word,” he said.
Both Parker and Grummons had previously camped in the main city area in Bend.
“We heard that China Hat is where we should go because that’s where they’re sending all the houseless people, ’cause people were getting evicted from in town,” Grummons said. “As the COVID regulations were being lifted, people were getting evicted from the spots they were camping in town.”
“They’re kicking us out of everywhere,” Parker added. “We’re downtown, they kick us out of downtown, they told us to come here, and now they’re kicking us out of here, and now they have nowhere else for us to go.”
The Forest Service issues similar citations on the land each year, in accordance with regulations meant to protect public lands.
Spokesperson Jean Nelson-Dean said the Forest Service doesn’t actually have the authority to take action beyond issuing citations, which result in $100 fines if not obeyed.
“What will happen if the campers don’t leave is we will ask the federal court to enact a trespass on them,” she told Central Oregon Daily News on Thursday. “Then it’s up to the federal court, and whether they will take action is up to them. The answer that we’ve gotten time and again from the federal court is that they have higher issues in the courts than this.”
She said giving the citations is nothing new, and it is what they have always done when campers are there for 14 days or more. She added that the issue becomes a cycle where houseless people are being pushed off city lands, and then camping on federal lands, and then the federal government does having the enforcement capabilities to adhere to their own regulations.
“We have law enforcement officers, but we don’t have a police force,” Nelson-Dean said. “We’re not the Sheriff’s department, Bend police. That’s not our mission. It’s federal public land, so we don’t have the authority to trespass people.”
The notices, she added, are meant to be more of an encouragement to move off the land than anything else.
“We are not a law enforcement agency. We’re trying to avoid resource impacts,” she said.
When citations have been issued in the past, some campers have chosen to just stay put.
“Some have moved, some totally ignore it. Some move and then come back, so it’s a variety of what happens,” said J.W. Terry, the Executive Director for Central Oregon Veterans Outreach. “I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anybody bulldozed out…we’ve done that in other areas, but never seen it done in China Hat.”
The alternatives to remaining on the land aren’t appealing to most campers.
“They’re not looking to move into Bend or Hunnell Road or 2nd Street, they’re fairly happy where they’re at, they’re just scared now that they’re going to be pushed around again,” Terry said.
Both Grummons and Parker said the Forest Service representatives who issued the citations had told them to ‘cross the Cascades’.
“They were just telling us to go to the valley, wherever that is,” Grummons said. “Well are you going to pay for our gas to get there? That’s a great suggestion then, we’ll just teleport to get there.”
Parker said shelters in town are not an option for him, as they are always full when he has looked.
“They’re full up so there’s no room for all these people. There’s at least a hundred people out here who are going to be thrown into nothing. So it’s pretty messed up,” he said.
“A lot of these people have disabilities like myself or children like these folks right here,” Parker gestured to a nearby campsite, “Or these folks right here. What are they going to do? So it’s brutal.”