Rogue Gallery and Art Center board President Alx Fox appealed to Jackson County commissioners Wednesday for help with transients who have preyed on the downtown Medford gallery and nearby businesses over the past two years.
The 65-year-old nonprofit, she said, has suffered repeated acts of vandalism, while volunteers and staff have been accosted and threatened by belligerent transients who camp on doorsteps and in alcoves around the gallery.
Fox told commissioners she was at her “wits end.” The gallery has lost volunteers who “don’t want to deal with cleaning up needles, condoms and human feces.” Gallery officials have discussed whether they should move out of downtown Medford.
She outlined two years of criminal behavior. Recently, she said, a gallery volunteer arrived to discover rain pouring from the ceiling in a gallery studio. Campers had been on the roof, started fires, defecated and left trash, drug paraphernalia and camping gear behind.
“It was when we had that great big rain about three weeks ago, that was how we found out they’d been up there. It was awful. We had 10 to 12 trash cans in here to catch all the water,” Fox told the commissioners.
“We had somebody come and take away access to the roof. We had these built-in ladders to get to the top, to access the air conditioning unit. We had to disconnect it so they couldn’t get up there. ... The next day ... somebody put something through one of the big windows, so we had to board that up until it could be replaced.”
Fox said an outdoor sculpture garden funded by donors had been upended after they discovered feces, destroyed landscaping and discarded trash and needles. A cyclone fence was installed to prevent access.
“We had been trying to get a sculpture garden going for about three years. Instead, we had to pay for this ugly fence ... because every day there were piles of s--t left for us to clean up. What we wanted to do was build this beautiful sculpture garden and have a place to sit and have refreshments on a nice day. We’re at our wits end. We just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Fox said she approached commissioners in hopes of a regional response. She also planned to approach city officials. When Bear Creek Greenway sweeps are conducted, she noted, problems in the downtown seem to increase with a surge of displaced campers.
Eric Strahl, event and marketing manager for the Craterian Theatre, echoed Fox’s concerns in an interview, saying the theater has been dealing with ongoing issues.
“It has progressively gotten worse this past year or two. ... We deal with a lot of litter, which includes drug paraphernalia and human excrement. And we deal with it on a pretty regular basis,” Strahl said.
“We have a volunteer core of retired people, probably 70% female, so we try to walk people to cars or have them walk together in pairs. We’re not having a lot of fun.”
During a recent performance of Yamato: Drummers of Japan, theater personnel had to call police to request a camper be removed, “so that people, when they left the show that night, weren’t stepping over a person sleeping on our back porch,” Strahl said.
Strahl said theater staff often ask homeless people to clean up after themselves and not to block exits but are often met with belligerence.
“It’s not a situation where we want to be zero-tolerant. I can’t tell you how many bottles of water and how many granola bars we’ve handed out. It’s a tricky situation.”
Medford police Lt. Geoff Kirkpatrick said he was surprised to learn of the problems at the gallery. He said the gallery had not reported any issues since last summer.
Fox said she had not reported the roof damage because she was unable to determine when it had occurred.
Kirkpatrick said the Medford Police Livability Team encourages businesses to report problems so officers can be made aware.
“It is very difficult to do anything if we aren’t aware of a problem. We meet with the Downtown Medford Association weekly, and our priority is to put these business owners directly in contact with a police officer to walk them through what we can and cannot do, but if we don’t know something is happening, we can’t do anything to try and help,” he said.
Sheriff Nate Sickler on Wednesday pointed to increasing issues he said are related to passage of Measure 110, which decriminalized certain drugs, and a lack of jail space to contain repeat offenders.
“When you have a drug-addicted homeless population, they typically bring a lot of challenges with them into the community — not all — but most,” he said.
“The bottom line is that people who are willing to behave in those ways ... need to stay in jail. It’s a terrible impact for those business owners and for the community. From a law enforcement standpoint, it’s extremely frustrating to try and make an impact, but to put people in jail knowing they’ll be right back out.”
Strahl of the Craterian said it was a fine line between empathy and weariness.
“We want to care for and protect the people in our community. That’s what we’re about as a staff. But we’re also running a business, and we want our patrons to feel like they’re getting an elevated experience,” he said.
Fox said she dreaded the looming summer season.
“When they do the sweep on the Greenway in summer, it’s hideous. We’re a block away, so when they want to do a cleanup, it just sends everyone into the downtown and it’s party city. ... I don’t know what we’ll do. We own the building. Do we sell? Do we stick it out? We’ve been in the heart of the town for 65 years.”
Vote woke, go broke. Remember who you VOTE into office. This doesn't include measures such as 110, but State and local races as well. This started 2-3 years ago. Exactly the same time all these "services" showed up to Medford. Remember? Downtown is dismal and has been for many years. We occasionally hear word about "revitalizing" downtown, but it never happens. Parking was never changed. Look at Bend. It's THRIVING. We have City staff more concerned with ROAD DIETS than doing anything else. We are all paying for it now......enjoy your commute, that has now DOUBLED because we gotta have bike lanes that nobody uses. Epic failure, and nobody is even held accountable.
Off to a good start RV Tribune. Very interesting, well written article. I knew it was bad but not this bad. Those poor businesses must be emotionally exhausted.
Repeal 110, maybe that will help. I have been told by police that the influx of homeless persons was very large after passage. Every homeless person I've seen has a cell phone. Apparently the word gets around. 110 may have been well intentioned, but fatal flaws existed as there was no way to force anyone into treatment and no where to send them. On a tangent, I've been financing and involved in the building of affordable housing since 1995. In that time I have experienced the huge cost increases in many cases driven by well intentioned people who have no finance background, and the results speak for themselves. Maybe if all businesses leave downtown the County, State, City may take this to the next level, whatever that may be.
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