WARRENTON — The Warrenton City Commission made a move to adopt a camping ordinance Tuesday night – but not until after an hour-long discussion about the possible effects it could have on missions and churches in their efforts to help homeless people.

The ordinance would make the numerous homeless and transient camps throughout the city limits illegal, giving police the power to do something about them.

Tuesday, Commissioner Henry Balensifer brought up the topic for discussion prior to the vote, with some possible changes he drafted to the ordinance originally written by Police Chief Mathew Workman and approved for a first reading last month.

Balensifer sought to add some language that could create a mechanism to allow for campers to report to the police chief and allow for inspection for sanitary conditions in exchange for permission to camp for more than 72 hours through a permitting process, if that was the desire.

“I personally think that this ordinance needs more discussion, at least input,” Balensifer said, later adding that he lived out of a tent for six months in the past and could sympathize. “I believe that this ordinance is not good for missions or churches that are actively helping the less fortunate population.”

Pastor Ray Bergerson of Warrenton’s Christian Fellowship and two members of the Astoria Rescue Mission expressed their concerns over the ordinance to the commission, with Mission Director Dave Newman expressing that if the commission doesn’t consider addressing the reasons behind why people are homeless, or how to change a person from the inside, their ordinance will fail.

Driving people out of town, he said, will not fix the problem. They’ll be back, and it will just make Workman’s job tougher.

But Commissioner Mark Baldwin had different opinions than Balensifer on the ordinance. Rather than loosening the ordinance to allow for more wiggle room, Baldwin expressed his interest in tightening it.

“I live in a neighborhood and do I want to see two tents in every yard 12 months out of the year where I live? Absolutely not,” Baldwin said. “Could it happen? It could happen. To me, from reading this a couple of different times, there’s fail-safes in this for us, the chief, the city manager, to make an emergency decision. If somebody comes and says their house just burnt down, then ‘Absolutely. How long do you need to get your place put together?’ I’m all for it. ...?

“I think the chief’s put a lot of thought in this and I’ll put it this way, if I need to help somebody, they’re more than welcome on the floor of any part of my house if there’s not a bed available for them. And I would hope that any place that has a structure, if they are going to help, would open their doors to helping somebody in need. I would do it and I would expect that from my fellow people of Warrenton. I think there’s ways around campsites.”

In the end, the commission voted to approve the ordinance as is, with one addition, giving Workman the discretion to make exceptions, something he already does.

“I have discretion on any ordinance,” Workman said. Earlier, he said, “I understand what Commissioner Balensifer is saying and I would be the last person who would want to hinder somebody who is trying to help people who are down and out or in need. What we need to do is we need to reach a balance, though, where they are providing enough sanitary facilities for the amount of people they have staying there.”

An earlier motion by Balensifer to postpone the decision until next month died on the floor for lack of a second.

“We’re right now tightening the code. I don’t think that by leaving this open, we’re going to exacerbate some sort of issue,” Balensifer said.

Mayor Mark Kujala retorted, “That’s why we’re having this discussion, because there is an issue.”

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