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Innovative and Compassionate Solution to Trespass Problem

A homeless camper living on one of the Three Rivers Land Conservancy’s preserves caused neighborhood consternation as well as a liability and debris problem. The conservancy solved the problem by speaking with the camper and connecting him with a nonprofit organization assisting homeless people to make successful and sustainable transitions into permanent housing.

Working on a Solution

 The Three Rivers Land Conservancy in Oregon had been struggling with the issue for almost two years, and they knew that they had to do something soon. They wanted their response to be both compassionate and uphold their conservation values as well as being responsive to neighbor’s complaints.

Stewardship director Laura O’Leary and executive director Jayne Cronlund looked into finding a solution. They did an internet search and learned of JOIN, a nonprofit working on homeless issues with a program emphasis on outreach services, and worked with the group to help the camper.

The conservancy staff received training from JOIN about how to best deal with the issue. They entered the situation with an attitude of wanting to help and wanting to avoid “running over this person.” They asked a number of questions of JOIN staff:

  • When would be the best time to meet the person?
  • What do we do?
  • How do we talk with him?

JOIN also addressed concerns about community perceptions if dealing with the homeless camper didn’t go smoothly. JOIN staff made plans to go with them on the visit.

Reaching Out

Laura and a JOIN outreach worker went to speak with the camper, offering resources and help transitioning off the Preserve. In order to have proper documentation, Laura also left a letter stating that he was on private property and would need to vacate the Preserve within 7 days. Laura told the camper she would be back the following week to check on his status and that she would have to call the police if he was still there. She also asked him to clean up the site.

Early the following week the camper’s sister called. She said that the camper was now living with her temporarily until they could get him set up in a more sustainable situation. She asked for JOIN’s number and was going to use JOIN resources in support of the process. She also requested an additional week to get all of his belongings off the property, which the conservancy staff granted. She mentioned how much they appreciated the conservancy treating him with respect and dignity. Laura said that response from the sister meant a lot to the staff at Three Rivers.

Lessons Learned

The conservancy drafted a homeless camper policy after addressing this situation. They also have a strong partnership with JOIN that Laura expects will prove mutually beneficial in the future.

Laura says “I think having a policy and procedure to follow helped me tremendously.” Jayne agrees and adds that “sticking our collective head in the sand and ignoring the issue was one alternative, but we chose to address it. This is something all land trusts face especially when we know the problem is going to be difficult to address.”

After the conservancy’s response, the neighbor has also now stepped up and removed invasive species from his property so that they don’t spread onto the conserved land. This neighbor is now a partner because Jayne and Laura listened to him and involved him in the solution.

“Bringing community into partnership with the land trust to solve the issues is critical,” Jayne continues. “Community oriented results are better solutions and strengthen ties to the community. Build relationships. Don’t think yuck. If you deal with it creatively it can be a great experience.”

Many chronic homeless person cases are exacerbated by mental illness. Jayne says these are the most difficult and the ones for which society doesn’t have great systems. Jayne reiterates the conservancy’s mission and values when she states that “we are all interconnected and it is a great opportunity for conservationist to be part of a larger solution rather than a barrier. It depends on your perspective as you approach the issue. Are you willing to be open and listen, are you willing to look to others for assistance and expertise and be creative. Asking neighbors and the community to help identify the solution invests them in preserving the land and makes them feel part of the successful solution.”

Many of us know of someone who faces mental health or other challenges that push that person to the edge of society. This is a personal issue for all of us and a health and safety issue for the town in which we live. Conservationists can be part of making the world a better place for everyone and defend their conservation easements and protect their fee-owned land. The two are not mutually exclusive. It only takes a little extra effort and creativity.

A Happy Conclusion

Strong conservation defense can help build better communities and help people who are falling through the cracks so we can have a better place to live for everyone. This successful event inspired Three Rivers Land Conservancy’s staff to be more creative in upholding conservation easements and conservation land. Their solution also furthered their mission.

What was a conflict turned into an opportunity for the conservancy. They helped someone to get needed services, built community, engendered gratitude and upheld important conservation purposes. Conservation defense can be compassionate, creative and consider community values as well as upholding conservation values forever.

 

For more info, call:

Laura O'Leary, Stewardship Director
Three Rivers Land Conservancy
PO Box 1116 1675 South Shore Blvd.
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
503.699.9825
503.699.9827 FAX
www.trlc.org

The mission of Three Rivers Land Conservancy is to inspire and involve people in the conservation of private natural land in the watersheds of the Clackamas, Tualatin, and lower Willamette Rivers in and around Portland, Oregon. They believe that conserving land creates stronger healthier communities now and for future generations. They envision a future with thousands of acres of conserved natural land and miles of connecting trail. A future where nature is interconnected with the built environment and development is in balance with nature.

JOIN exists to support the efforts of homeless individuals and families to make successful and sustainable transitions off the street. JOIN was founded in 1992 to bridge the gap between homeless and housed members of our community. JOIN’s program emphasis is for outreach services to homeless individuals who remain outside the traditional system and on the street. The provision of these services is grounded in an innovative blend of harm reduction and mutual relationships that emphasizes strengths rather than deficits. JOIN’s vision is to create a community where homelessness is a short-term circumstance and not a long-term or chronic condition. Their priority is to rapidly re-house homeless individuals and families and stabilize them in their new homes.

 

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