Transient welcoming committee proposed

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta police chief Parish Cross speaks about a possible new program aimed at educating seasonal transients to help gain compliance of local ordinances. Pictured around the table are Pastor Stan Terry; Mount Shasta Recreation and Parks District Administrator Mike Rodriguez; Berryvale owner, Chamber board member and MSRPD board member Sean Doyle; and Mount Shasta Chamber executive director Marie Wells. Photo by Skye Kinkade

The city of Mount Shasta is developing a program that would work with transients in hopes of gaining more compliance with the law and city ordinances.

Most transients are not contributing to Mount Shasta’s tax base, however, they are “gobbling up resources,” said police chief Parish Cross. A majority of MSPD officers’ time in the summer months is spent dealing with various issues involving

transients.

Cross hopes the formation of a “Welcoming Committee,” which would be run by the police department using a combination of volunteers and police officers, would educate transients about the city’s expectations and “social and moral appropriateness,” as well as services they may want to take advantage of.

During a meeting held at the police department last week, Cross explained his intentions to a group of people including Mount Shasta Chamber executive director Marie Wells, Pastor Stan Terry, Mount Shasta Recreation and Parks District Administrator Mike Rodriguez, and Berryvale owner Sean Doyle, who is a Chamber and MSRPD board member.

This summer, the police department formulated a Transient Action Plan to deal with transients who are causing disturbances. The transients were contacted and checked for warrants. If they violated an ordinance, they were warned and their names entered into a system. This way, when a citation was issued, the department could be sure proper procedures were followed.

Despite the TAP, Cross said he’s heard negative feedback from some residents and business owners who are unhappy with the influx of seasonal transients, which seems to have become more serious over the past two summers.

Though the number of transient-related calls has grown, Cross said there is no correlating increase in significant crime – most of the calls are for trespassing, suspicious behavior or petty theft.

Officers can only target negative behaviors, not lifestyle choices, Cross said, but businesses are private property and the police can assist business owners in enforcing their policies.

Doyle acknowledged that Berryvale is a place where transients tend to congregate at times. Their policy focuses on respectful behavior, not how a person looks or where they are from.

However, in the past two years Doyle said Berryvale has seen an increase in customers who are unwilling to comply with requests, such as not smoking or drinking in front of the establishment, in the parking lot or in the small park area behind the store, or refusing to wear shoes inside.

Instead, some of the transients have become “shockingly aggressive,” Doyle said.

Since the community cannot realistically rid Mount Shasta of its transient population, Cross believes a Welcoming Committee might help minimize some of the more unpleasant aspects of transient behavior.

Why they come

Transients choose Mount Shasta for the same reasons many of its residents live here – relative safety, a friendly, tolerant community, natural beauty, and the spiritual aspect of the mountain.

Transients may also flock to Mount Shasta in the summer months because the nearby National Forest provides a place to legally camp. Natural resources, such as lakes, rivers and creeks provide a good place to bathe. The community provides transients with handouts, both from panhandling and in a more organized fashion at food banks and soup kitchens.

The handouts are one thing on the list of “whys” that the community may be able to control, but it would be difficult, Cross said.

Mount Shasta has historically been the site of transient gatherings, including “hippies” in the 1960s, the Rainbow gatherings in the 1980s and ’90s and other spiritual seekers who enjoy a vagabond lifestyle.

Cross said he’s not sure what is contributing to the recent uptick in transient population. He pointed out that there are different kinds of transients, and the proposed plan focuses on seasonal “adventurers” who simply enjoy living without an address.

Some perceived transients might have mental health issues and others are truly homeless. There are other community groups and organizations that are working to help them, Cross said.

Transient-related problems

Wells said some local business owners are furious about the increase in transients. She sees transients regularly during the summer utilizing the Chamber’s small park on Lake Street, and many come inside to ask for services such as homeless shelters and food distribution.

Rodriguez said there have been problems at Mount Shasta City Park and Shastice with transients littering, bathing in creeks, pilfering electricity, defecating in inappropriate places, keeping unleashed and unlicensed dogs, and generally making people uncomfortable. However, he acknowledges there is little the police can do to “rid” the park of transients and it is for everyone to enjoy.

Cross said he’d like to see his department “take the high road” and not “pick and choose” who can live in our community.

“We need to go at this with a 2014 mentality, not a 1950s mentality,” Cross said. “So we try to get rid of transients. What’s next? Redheads? Where do we draw the line?”

Other efforts

Cross explained that what Mount Shasta is experiencing isn’t unique, and other communities have tried a variety of tactics to deal with transient-related issues.

Ashland has created a “three strike” policy, which bans individuals from the downtown area if they are cited three times for a list of “transient-related” offenses.

Ukiah has started a “handouts aren’t helping” campaign which encourages people to donate to organizations that help the homeless rather than give transients cash. Grants Pass, Ore. has passed an ordinance which makes it illegal for motorists to give to panhandlers standing on freeway entrances and exits.

Would it work?

Could the program bring more transients to Mount Shasta? Cross said he’s not sure, but he believes it may help gain more compliance. He said getting rid of all transients is an “unrealistic goal” and anything that might help make things easier for the community is something to worth trying.