Deschutes Co. sheriff proposes camping ordinance with time, place restrictions


Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson is proposing a new homeless camping ordinance limiting where and for how long someone could stay on public lands.

Nelson presented his proposal — which he describes as a work in progress — the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners Wednesday. The two key elements are:

  • Camping limited to 24 hours in any one location. Once notice is given to vacate, the campers have 72 hours to clear out.
  • Campers must move at least one block or 600 feet.

The time restriction can be suspended if the camper doesn’t have access to shelter and when they are engaged in case management or behavioral health services, or if it’s necessary to respond to a camper’s disability.

Camping would not be allowed at any time within one mile of private property or on federal land within one mile of an urban growth boundary.

“This is a crucial component to the sheriff’s office ability to guide individuals to resources while enforcing the rule of law. On the executive branch of government, it’s my job to enforce the rules and everybody is accountable to those rules,” Nelson said.

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Nelson and the sheriff’s office cited fire response as one of the reasons for the proposal. The office noted several fires on China Hat Road, including one on April 2022 that was 200 yards away from a home. The sheriff’s office said putting a buffer between camps and private property could give firefighters time to get out to remote locations to battle a fire.

“That’s what the big concern is, because we have we have everything to lose by having a fire starting out there in the forest and a high winds pick up. And next thing you know, it’s in your backyard, you know, burn up your property that you’ve worked your whole life for,” said Bend Resident Eric Russell, who lived in the Woodside Ranch Development.

Eric Russell says he and his family live 400 yards from China Hat Road and says this proposal is needed, as his neighbors have already put up 6 foot fences to keep people from trespassing.

A situation he has dealt with himself.

“My family was woken up at about 4:00 in the morning by one of them homeless guy that came over here and banged on the door and said that he he ran out of gas on China hat and he was trying to find his girlfriend that was abducted,” he said.

The office also cited last month’s incident in which two homeless campers allegedly confronted employees at Lost Tracks Golf Course off China Hat Road. It came after driving range balls ended up going over the net into an area where people camp.

Commissioner Phil Chang expressed reservations, saying such a plan should come as part of a larger effort to reduce homelessness in the region and provide those people with alternatives.

“We need to define where and when people can camp in the context of an overall comprehensive solution that also diverts people out of homelessness in order for us to actually make any progress in our community,” Chang said. “The cost of not doing that is that you will continue to have to deploy substantial Human Resources to respond to the kinds of incidents that you are finding — China Hat Road or the next place where those people get shuffled to.”

Nelson disagreed, saying the step can be taken now.

“If we delay and wait until we have a solution to homelessness, we will never get there,” Nelson said.

Chang also asked about potential legal challenges and costs the county might incur with due to the ordinance. Nelson countered that the legal challenges could also come if there is a loss of property or life if the county does nothing.

Wednesday’s presentation was just a proposal. There was no formal adoption.

You can read the full proposal below.

Deschutes County camping ordinance

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