Submitted to the city and county, June 21, 2020

Report on Impacts to the Jefferson Westside neighborhood by Lane County’s policy on Homeless Camping and the City of Eugene’s Actions during the COVID 19 Stay-at-Home Order

Compiled by Ted M. Coopman, Chair, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Purpose

The purpose of this report is to ensure the serious impacts of Lane County’s and the City of Eugene’s policy on homeless camping during the COVID 19 Stay-at-home order are included the in the public record. The goal is to address to the systemic problems of the Lane County and the city of Eugene’s actions and inaction in the hopes that (1) the mistakes made will not be repeated in a future emergency; (2) to improve Lane County and the city of Eugene’s process in altering strategy in a timely manner in response to changing events on the ground; (3) to point out the serious shortcomings of Lane County and the city of Eugene’s responses to homelessness; (4) to make decision-makers accountable for their actions and serious injury those actions inflicted on the residents of Jefferson Westside; and (5) illustrate how a policy intended to protect the homeless and the community by following CDC guidelines actually needlessly endangered both.

To be clear, this is not a critique of city or county staff who performed admirably under difficult circumstances. Further, staff also suffered under the direction of city and county leadership’s confused policies. By extension, nor is this in indictment of the Eugene Police Department (EPD) or Chief Skinner. It was clear that any advice on the policy in question was either not elicited or ignored. Moreover, the burden of trying to unwind this poorly conceived policy will largely fall on the backs of already overloaded officers who also tend to be the target for the ire of both residents and unhoused over executing county and city policy. The JWN received the most assistance and timely responses from the EPD and the Park Ambassador staff, and we are grateful to them.

We would also like to state at the onset that, although Jefferson Westside Neighbors was neither consulted nor directly informed of a shelter going into the Lane Events Center (LEC), the JWN Board supported it. Although we did so with the implicit (and it turns out unwarranted) understanding that proper security in the surrounding neighborhoods would be maintained (see Proximate LEC Shelter Impacts below). In fact, on multiple occasions we implored the city and county to move tent campers to safe and secure managed sites on city and county property including empty parking lots downtown and the acres of open space on LEC property. Apparently, the concerns over preserving these city and county properties were not extended to neighborhoods and parks.

The lack of response by the city to dozens of calls for service and detailed reports of widespread and ongoing serious health, public safety, and quality of life problems and the unwillingness to change course showed a callous disregard for impacted JWN residents. The city and county’s inaction during this crisis were simply inexcusable.

Executive Summary

On March 23, 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Oregon. On or about that date Lane County Health and Human Services (LHHS) took control of the COVID 19 response. March 24 a shelter was opened at Lane Events Center (LEC). According to Lane County HHS Direct Gaffney (May 30), she recommended that the city of Eugene and police follow these CDC Guidelines. At some point, the decision was made that suspending enforcement of camping restrictions in public parks and open space was required as per their interpretation of CDC Guidelines (see full report). The JWN has sent queries on May 31 and June 9 to both City Manager pro-tem Medary and Chief Skinner on who made that decision. No response was forthcoming so we must assume that the City Manager made that decision. The decision to allow camping in parks and open spaces was not communicated to the public or neighborhood associations. This caused considerable confusion.

Suspending the camping ban completely ignored everything the city has learned about the behaviors of homeless campers and the life cycles of homeless encampments. The utter failure of this decision was evident at the onset to neighborhood leaders, EPD officers, Park Ambassadors, and Parks and Public Works staff I talked with on the matter. The strategy undermined the goals of the CDC Guidelines (see full report below) primarily in two ways:

  1. The homeless either were not told or did not listen to instructions to “shelter-in-place.” They did not remain where they were camped. Once it became clear that the camping ban was suspended, even in urban parks, there was a massive movement of people AFTER the stay-at-home order went into effect in an attempt to secure better camping sites. In fact, some people reported being directed to relocate to city parks. The scale of this movement was far in excess of the normal movement of unhoused people when the camping ban was in effect.
  2. Homeless camps tend to be small in scale to avoid drawing complaints. However, under this policy, camps grew in size and density not seen prior to the suspension of the camping ban. Again, this created an environment that directly contravenes the intent of the CDC Guidelines. The tent camps on 13th Ave numbered almost 30 at the peak and the camp in Westmoreland Park almost 50. Since camps were ad hoc, no provision for social distancing or other precautions were in place.

Further, the city was very selective in how it followed the CDC Guidelines. It contravened them by closing all public flush toilets and access to running water. The city was also slow to provide portable toilets at many of the ad hoc camp sites. It took several weeks for a portable toilet to arrive at Westmoreland Park after the JWN requested one and that was only because service providers arranged it. The tragedy is that city and county inaction and poor planning created dangerous situations for the unhoused – the lack of serious COVID 19 outbreak in this population was pure luck – and intolerable experiences for residents.

This executive summary details the impacts on Monroe Park, the neighborhoods proximate to the Lane Events Center Shelter site and the camps along 13th Ave, Westmoreland Park near Albertsons and Caesar Chavez Elementary School, and briefly, issues in a few other selected locations. See the full report for details and documentation.

Monroe Park

Over one week into shelter-in-place order tents started to appear in Monroe Park and calls for service for this previously prohibited use were met with a statement that EPD would not respond. There was no notification or explanation that homeless people would be directed to the park for shelter. The flush toilets were closed, and two portable toilets were brought in with no hand wash station (added a week later by JWN request). The number of tents expanded steadily as well as the number of vehicle dwellers using the park. At its peak, between 12 and 15 people were camping in tents of vehicles. Campers did not follow social distancing, nor did they shelter in place with many people coming and going. The impacts on the park in the volume of trash, noise at all hours, a tent fire, and criminal activity were severe. Neighbors stranded at home stopped using the park over safety concerns and not wanting to intrude on campsites. Via an intervention by the JWN and Councilor Semple, the park was eventually cleared April 10 and vehicle dwellers by May 8. Despite assurances that they would be relocated to a designated site, campers are simply told to leave and go to White Bird for help. Intermittent camping continued into June and in one instance resulted in a tent fire.

 

Proximate Impacts of the Shelter at the Lane Events Center and W. 13th Ave Camping

Once the LEC shelter opened on March 24 we saw a spike in complaints and calls for service in the surrounding neighborhoods. Once the shelter filled or when people were asked to leave, they set-up camps along the parking strip and fence on 13th Ave. A stream of cars and trucks dropped off new campers daily. This created massive problems for neighbors.

Between March 24 and May 17, there were 69 calls for service to EPD, including disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, animal abuse, assault/assault 4, menacing, theft, robbery, and armed suspect. There were also 46 calls to EMS, half of which were after 10pm (this does not include CAHOOTS responses). Neighbors were subjected to open drug use, defecation in their yards, harassment at all hours, petty theft, and destruction of private property. Trapped in their homes due to the stay-at-home order, and with no relief from the city and county, the stress was unrelenting.  At the peak, 27 tents were tightly spaced on 13th Ave with heavy traffic coming and going on foot and in cars. Only through continued and concerted effort by neighbors and the JWN did the county relent and move 13th Ave campers inside the LEC on May 15.

Westmoreland Park

By Mid- April tents had started to appear at Westmoreland Park near Albertsons and the Fern Ridge Path. On April 26 the JWN requested the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) bring in a portable toilet, they responded a week later that one was ordered, although it turns out private service providers arranged for it. A single toilet and no hand wash station served what became a camp with 30+ tents and 50 people. Excess trash and debris, open cook fires in dry grass, debris being thrown into Amazon Creek, and the inability or unwillingness for neighbors to use the alternative transportation corridors to access the market and to get out of their homes were reported. The park was not cleared until June 10.

As detailed in the full report, the same patterns of trash, illegal activity, and harassment occurred across the neighborhood. Neighbors often received no responses to emails to elected and appointed city and county officials and few responses for calls for service.

The inability or unwillingness of the city of Eugene and Lane county to take any significant action to mitigate the ongoing pervasive problems that plagued residents between March 24 and June 9, 2020 represents a catastrophic failure of leadership and an abdication of the most basic responsibilities of government to its citizens. The “strategy” on the unhoused during the COVID 19 crisis not only significantly increased the health risks for the homeless but inflicted significant hardships on the residents of Jefferson Westside. The record clearly shows that the failure of city policy was completely predictable from the onset and the JWN repeatedly requested the city to change course to avoid the tragedy that unfolded. The city of Eugene and Lane county completed abandoned its own residents, leaving them trapped in their homes under quarantine, with little or no recourse. The emotional toll on residents already stressed during a pandemic will persist and was inflicted needlessly and gratuitously.

The city and county refused to use the acres of open spaces and parking lots (completely empty for the duration) under its control to establish safe refuge during the emergency. The obvious solution from the onset, if there was true concern for the unhoused population, was to establish safe, sanitary, and managed camping areas. The city had no exit strategy to demobilize ad hoc camping in public spaces and had TWO MONTHS to formulate a plan and wasted the opportunity to make a bold and long needed move on sanctioned managed camping sites. Instead, at the end, they simply and cruelly told campers to leave. This represents the continued inadequate response to the immediate needs of a large unhoused population. At any point during between March and June the city and county could have made efforts to mitigate the severe and ongoing impacts on residents detailed in this report.

Full Report on Impacts to the Jefferson Westside neighborhood by Lane County’s policy on Homeless Camping and the City of Eugene’s Actions during the COVID 19 Stay-at-Home Order

On March 23, 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Oregon. On or about that date Lane County Health and Human Services (LHHS) took control of the COVID 19 response. March 24 a shelter was opened at Lane Events Center (LEC). According to Lane County HHS Direct Gaffney (May 30), she recommended that the city of Eugene and police follow these CDC Guidelines. At some point, the decision was made that suspending enforcement of camping restrictions in public parks and open space was required as per their interpretation of CDC Guidelines (see full report). The JWN has sent queries on May 31 and June 9 to both City Manager pro-tem Medary and Chief Skinner on who made that decision. No response was forthcoming so we must assume that the City Manager made that decision. The decision to allow camping in parks and open spaces was not communicated to the public or neighborhood associations. This caused considerable confusion.

CDC Considerations for Encampments

  1. If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.
    • Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.
  2. Encourage those staying in encampments to set up their tents/sleeping quarters with at least 12 feet x 12 feet of space per individual.
    • If an encampment is not able to provide sufficient space for each person, allow people to remain where they are but help decompress the encampment by linking those at higher risk for severe illness to individual rooms or safe shelter.
  3. Work together with community coalition members to improve sanitation in encampments.
  4. Ensure nearby restroom facilities have functional water taps, are stocked with hand hygiene materials (soap, drying materials) and bath tissue, and remain open to people experiencing homelessness 24 hours per day.
  5. If toilets or handwashing facilities are not available nearby, assist with providing access to portable latrines with handwashing facilities for encampments of more than 10 people. These facilities should be equipped with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).

Suspending the camping ban completely ignored everything the city has learned about the behaviors of homeless campers and the life cycles of homeless encampments. The utter failure of this decision was evident at the onset to neighborhood leaders, EPD officers, Park Ambassadors, and Parks and Public Works staff I talked with on the matter. The strategy undermined the goals of the CDC Guidelines (see full report below) primarily in two ways:

  1. The homeless either were not told or did not listen to instructions to “shelter-in-place.” They did not remain where they were camped. Once it became clear that the camping ban was suspended, even in urban parks, there was a massive movement of people AFTER the stay-at-home order went into effect in an attempt to secure better camping sites. In fact, some people reported being directed to relocate to city parks. The scale of this movement was far in excess of the normal movement of unhoused people when the camping ban was in effect.
  2. Homeless camps tend to be small in scale to avoid drawing complaints. However, under this policy, camps grew in size and density not seen prior to the suspension of the camping ban. Again, this created an environment that directly contravenes the intent of the CDC Guidelines. The tent camps on 13th Ave numbered almost 30 at the peak and the camp in Westmoreland Park almost 50. Since camps were ad hoc, no provision for social distancing or other precautions were in place.

Further, the city was very selective in how it followed the CDC Guidelines. It contravened them by closing all public flush toilets and access to running water. The city was also slow to provide portable toilets at many of the ad hoc camp sites. It took several weeks for a portable toilet to arrive at Westmoreland Park after the JWN requested one and that was only because service providers arranged it. The tragedy is that city and county inaction and poor planning created dangerous situations for the unhoused – the lack of serious COVID 19 outbreak in this population was pure luck – and intolerable experiences for residents.

The experience at Monroe Park is illustrative of the confusion, poor execution, and disfunction in the attempt to follow the CDC Guidelines.

Monroe Park

On March 30, eight days after the shelter-in-place order went into effect, the first tent appeared at Monroe Park, which was reported via the usual channels by calling the EPD non-emergency number and making a Park Watch report online. The Park Ambassadors were also contacted via text. The EPD dispatcher simply stated that police would not respond (offering no further explanation).

It should be noted that CDC guidelines state that “people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” The stated goal was to not “disperse [the homeless] throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” However, the campers who moved into the park did so after the order was in place, thus engaging in behavior that directly contravened CDC guidelines. Further, that campers later reported they were told that Monroe Park was where they should go to shelter. At this time the flush toilets in the park were closed and two portable toilets were brought in, but without a handwashing station. This further contravened CDC guidelines that direct authorities to “Ensure nearby restroom facilities have functional water taps, are stocked with hand hygiene materials (soap, drying materials).”  At this point two vans were parked at Monroe, one an ongoing nuisance and the other allegedly directed there by a social service agency.

Based on a communication from a park camper named “Taylor,” it appears that they had the impression that camping in Monroe Park was permissible and the camping ban was not being enforced. That is when they decided to relocate to the park.

  • March 24 (approximately). A blue van parks on W. 10th (no plates). It becomes a party spot with up to 10 people congregating (Case #31822945). Lots of noise, trash, and drug use. Multiple calls to EPD. No response.
  • April 1: JWN contacted EPD Lt. Mozan about single tent in Monroe Park, stated that the problem is that past experience indicates that soon there will be more campers. Purple van parks on Adams, occupants state they have been told to shelter there by service agency.
  • On April 2: A second tent appeared, and there are now four car campers. In our communication with Councilor Emily Semple we suggested the LEC open space was a better solution.
  • April 4: Calls to EPD about loud arguing. Volunteers removed 30 gallons (six, five-gallon buckets) of trash from park. Semple responds, stating she has communicated to leadership that neighborhood parks are not appropriate camping venues.
  • April 5: 3rd tent appears. Tents are closely sited, no social distancing (see photo 1). Major drug induced meltdown, female tore up shrubs in park, took multiple neighbors recycle bins into park, tried to take a neighbor’s canoe out of their yard. Huge volume of trash and debris (see photo 2)
  • April 7: with bathrooms closed, two portable toilets, and between 12 and 15 people camping in or around the park the JWN requests a hand washing station. We again request campers to be relocated to LEC grounds.
  • April 8: Text from Emily Semple that the park will be cleared. In a phone conversation, Brian Richardson, Public Affairs Manager, Eugene Public Works, declared that the city decided neighborhood parks are not appropriate camping venues. Fourth tent appears.
  • April 10: Tent campers are moved out. Despite assurances that they would be relocated to a designated site, they are simply told to leave and go to White Bird for help.
  • April 24: Blue van still on W.10th. Large RV parks on W. 10th, possessions and debris expand onto park property.
  • April 27: Numerous emails on blue van to EPD and Parking Enforcement.
  • April 30: Blue van moves to Adams near W. Broadway.
  • May 1: Large RV is orange tagged.
  • May 2: Large RV leaves.
  • May 3: Tent set-up in Monroe Park catches fire and burns, ESFD responds.
  • May 4: Blue van and purple van get orange tagged. Blue van moves again to Monroe St. near W.10th. Volunteer clean up remains of burnt tent.
  • May 8: Blue van finally departs along with purple van on W. 10th
  • May and June: The park continues to see illegal camping, and resulting problems, far in excess of the norm

It is important to note at this point that this report is not an indictment of the unhoused, although certainly of the behavior of a segment within that population. Survival on the streets is largely a matter of quickly taking advantage of any opportunities that improve your personal situation. The problem is that, broadly, homeless camping behaviors are predictable, and camps are established, grow, and degenerate consistently. Anyone who works or volunteers in parks and public space is aware of the dynamics. Multiple conversations with police, park, and public work staff were consistent in this knowledge and staff voiced their frustration and concern that what transpired was entirely predictable and avoidable. It is distressing that city and county leadership chose to ignore the experience of those who are the most familiar with conditions on the street. Monroe Park offers an illustrative example, as it is widely known that illegal camping in Monroe Park (closed between 11 and 6) are quickly reported and responded to in a timely fashion. Therefore, pitching tents in the park is a rare occurrence. However, once “word got out” others piled into the space to take advantage of the prime central location.

Proximate Impacts of the Shelter at the Lane Events Center (LEC) and W. 13th Ave Camping

Once the LEC shelter opened on March 24 we saw a spike in complaints and calls for service in the surrounding neighborhoods. Once the shelter filled or when people were asked to leave, they set-up camps along the parking strip and fence on 13th Ave. A stream of cars and trucks dropped off new campers daily. This created massive problems including open drug use, violence, noise at all hours, fireworks, and even a tent fire one night.

Total of 69 events since opening up to May 17, 2020 for LEC address only. NOTE: Cahoots is NOT recorded in Lane County records but was in are ALL HOURS OF THE DAY. Total of 46 (half after 10 pm) calls for EMS during this period.
Charge Date & Time Code Location Type Agency
Disorderly Subject 3/26/20 23:32 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assist Outside Agency 3/26/20 23:52 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 3/27/20 7:30 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Animal Abuse 3/28/20 19:08 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Theft 3/29/20 16:26 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assault 3/29/20 22:22 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 3/30/20 16:10 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 3/31/20 1:39 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 3/31/20 8:49 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 3/31/20 19:32 INFO 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/1/20 9:18 NOIN 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/1/20 22:07 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Armed Subject(s) 4/2/20 2:07 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/2/20 13:05 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/3/20 19:38 PCHK 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 4/3/20 23:03 CIV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assault 4/4/20 22:24 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/5/20 0:22 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/6/20 7:56 WARN 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/6/20 21:29 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Theft 4/7/20 12:00 UTL 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/9/20 15:44 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/11/20 5:24 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/12/20 2:55 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/13/20 20:26 CLC 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Theft 4/15/20 14:15 REPT 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/16/20 0:36 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/17/20 5:06 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Location Stolen Property 4/17/20 22:45 REPT 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/18/20 4:31 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/18/20 10:12 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assault 4 4/18/20 22:49 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/18/20 23:22 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/19/20 10:03 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Unknown Problem 4/19/20 10:21 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/19/20 23:21 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 4/20/20 13:05 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/22/20 9:16 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/23/20 23:18 DIS 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/25/20 4:20 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Menacing 4/25/20 20:07 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Illegal Burning 4/26/20 14:54 UNFD 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 4/27/20 21:20 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/27/20 22:32 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 4/30/20 8:06 UTL 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Suspicious Condition(s) 4/30/20 9:19 UTL 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 4/30/20 12:33 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 5/1/20 20:20 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 5/1/20 22:26 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assault 5/1/20 22:39 PCHK 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Robbery 5/2/20 1:15 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 5/3/20 12:29 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Found Contraband 5/3/20 21:56 REPT 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 5/6/20 0:31 PCHK 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Assault 5/6/20 0:39 INFO 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Theft 5/6/20 0:47 UTL 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 5/7/20 21:50 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 5/8/20 0:35 ADVI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Disorderly Subject 5/8/20 13:59 NCH 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 5/10/20 1:32 RSLV 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Found Property 5/10/20 16:05 REPT 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 5/12/20 1:05 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 5/13/20 14:09 DIS 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Dispute 5/13/20 17:29 UTL 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 5/13/20 18:08 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Fire, Trash Bin 5/13/20 23:39 ASST 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Suspicious Subject(s) 5/15/20 6:02 GOA 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Criminal Trespass 5/16/20 2:11 ARR 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD
Menacing 5/17/20 16:39 FI 796 W 13TH AVE EUG EPD

As neighbor noted in an unanswered email to LHHS Director Gaffney and Police Chief Skinner:

We all are compassionate people and we know the these are uncharted waters.  We want to be part of the solution, but the burden to deal with safety and health concerns cannot solely be placed on the neighborhoods surrounding the facility.  I have reached out to various city officials and still have received very little traction.  We are counting on you as public health and safety officers to help the neighboring community so that we can be safe, maintain our own mental health, and not feel as though we will be assaulted or infected when we go outside.

One neighbor experienced an attempted break-in and had to pay for repairs to their fence which was damaged during the attempt. The timing coincided with the arrival of several car campers. They filed multiple police reports concerning activities in the park, including gun shots fired

and regularly heard someone(s) coming onto their front porch at night, presumably either for shelter or looking for resources, like a hose, electrical outlet, or forgotten package. On multiple occasions, someone came into their front yard and left things on their property (everything from slices of bread to garbage and clothing items). The result is that they are now looking into having a fence installed in their front yard — an expensive project they had no plans/budget to do but hope it will slow down foot traffic onto their property. A neighbor reports their garbage being dug through and piles of garbage thrown about the area. One neighbor pulled up in front of their home after work to find a man urinating out in public.

One neighbor lamented:

“Mentally, this has all been exhausting and makes us wonder about our choice to invest in Eugene. There have been financial impacts for us. We’re tired, frustrated, and a little jaded after these past months. It’s very uncomfortable to be watched by people residing in their vehicles and it has altered how we spend time in our front yard.” 

As another neighbor noted:

As the weeks pass the situation becomes more dire. I was awakened yet again at 11:30 last night to the sounds of screaming coming from the Fairgrounds. The drug dealing is happening with wild abandon. I have heard a minimum of 5 conversions from my living room highlighting giving weed for meth, that one guy stole drugs from another guys tent and that was not the deal. I see a white car parked on one side of the fence and transitions being made through the fence.  […] I wonder how […] Mayor Vinis, or Commissioner Sorenson, would deal with the lack of sleep from the never-ending shrieks coming from the illegal camp.

On May 11 a neighbor emails LHHS Director Gaffney and Police Chief Skinner (no reply):

We constantly witness people leaving and returning to the facility, gathering in groups, going from tent to tent, sharing items, and having visitors.  Not only is it a public health concern, but it is also a livability issue.  We have a constant barrage of First Responders (ambulances, fire trucks, police, and CAHOOTS) all day and night as they respond to calls from the Lane Events Center.  EMS dispatch logs show only a portion of the activity and EPD logs show a chronic problem with criminal activity at or near the facility on a daily basis.  As a resident of this arrangement at the Fairgrounds, I have observed a stream of people rummaging through and scoping out the neighborhood all hours of the day and have witnessed campers going on to private property to look or take items, some even being captured on video.[…] As a result of this constant foot traffic, we have to deal with trash, fights, aggressive behavior, and debris throughout the neighborhood.  The first weekend that the facility was open, I came face to face with a camper that only hours later was arrested for breaking the gas pipes at the Fairgrounds and beating up a camper.  Later, I found out that he was on parole and has been in and out of jail on multiple charges for the past few years.  Shortly before this incident, I was approached by a camper asking for money for food, only to find out he was a resident of the shelter and getting meals.  Both of these instances happened in my front yard. […] We find ourselves not wanting to go outside for fear of a disturbance or possible infection, especially as this foot traffic increases. 

The JWN Chair added this email on May11 (no reply):

All,

If the city and county wish to provide shelter to the unhoused at the LEC, then they need to place all campers currently spread out on the periphery of LEC grounds inside the facility on the acres of open public space with access controls. If campers do not wish to be moved into managed camps, then they should be removed from the area immediately.

It is the city and county’s responsibility to provide adequate security around these operations and you have not done so at great cost to the surrounding neighborhood. The current situation was completely foreseeable and avoidable, and the city and county has failed to respond to resident’s pleas for help as the problem escalates. That is, frankly, inexcusable.

There are no justifiable health benefits to the current situation and the only difference between the behaviors of homeless campers now and before the emergency is they can camp anywhere and continue to relocate to the best possible locations – evidenced by the increasing size of camps on 13th and at Westmorland Park. This defeats the stated rationale of not moving the unhoused to avoid potential disease spread. Instead, these camps, with minimal if any sanitation, no social distancing, and much greater density than any camps prior to the stay-at-home order have created increased chances for COVID-19 spread as well as a host of other public health and safety issues.

It is far past time for the city and county to admit their mistake and take action and not simply stand-by, throw up their hands, and expect residents to simply endure it. The city and county should provide supervised, safe, and secure shelter for the unhoused (long before now, actually). However, the periphery of the LEC on 13th and Westmorland Park by Albertsons as well as the other streets and open spaces in the JWN do not meet that criteria. 

The current situation is a direct result of the shelter being located at the LEC, the failure to provide security to the surrounding areas. and the decision to allow unrestricted camping. Those are decisions the city and county made and are directly responsible for the consequences.

Clear campers from the periphery of LEC and from all public spaces in the JWN. Enough is enough. We have done our part, welcoming the MAT Clinic on W. 11th, with supportive housing at the LEC (Conestoga huts before that), with decades of requesting more supportive housing on the old Naval Reserve site, making hand sanitizer for Cornerstone Housing residents, and support for setting up the COVID-19 shelter at the LEC.

The city and county’s treatment of us shows a profound lack of respect and indifference to our most basic needs to be safe a secure in our homes. Shame on you.

We need to know, NOW, what actions are you going to take to re-establish public order. Further, once the stay-at-home orders get relaxed on May 15, what is your exit strategy for the homeless now at LEC and camping in public spaces?

This report from a neighbor:

It’s been a rough spring with the homeless campers literally next to the house just next to mine.  I’ve experienced minor things like trash in the street, and uninvited use of my water as evidenced by our unfastened hose. My use of our garbage bin was repeatedly used, and garbage was also dumped into the recycling bin.  People went through bins on the street, not just looking for cans, but taking out items, probably to use at their campsite, leaving debris on the ground as they went. Of greatest concern were the people going up and down the street fighting, or just yelling/swearing into the air.  This could be seen/heard day and night.  There were two explosions and one fire. People came to the door at odd hours asking for money.  Once the doorbell rang at 3:30 in the morning. People completely indiscreetly used the bushes right on 13th as a bathroom.  One man walked down the sidewalk of 13th absolutely naked and wet, like he’d gone through a sprinkler. It’s been demoralizing to see such misery and to have to be hospitable to guests for so long.  It’s also been an up-close reminder of the helplessness I feel as to what to do to help the houseless become healthy members of the larger community.

Event Timeline

  • March 24: LEC Shelter Opens
  • March 29: LEC camper stops resident in front yard asking for food and money. After walking through the neighborhood and confronting a JWN neighbor the individual was arrested after breaking gas pipes and assaulting a shelter resident at the LEC.
  • April 12: Neighbor emailed LEC Management, Councilor Semple and JWN about tents proliferating on 13th
  • April 13: Neighbors report of individual injecting drugs on sidewalk in front of their home. Other neighbor reports trespassing as man walks through their front gate and into yard.
  • April 24: Neighbor phones non-emergency to report too many people congregating and camping close together (appearing to be partying) on the grass strip outside of the Fairgrounds – as a health concern and believing it to be illegal for campers to be there. Dispatch said they would notify an officer and that there was somebody already managing the situation who was aware of what was happening. JWN neighbor Ring camera captures door locks being checked.
  • April 25: Neighbor’s Ring camera captures package being stolen from porch. Neighbor called EPD about homeless woman who appeared under the influence of drugs, in the rain, and claiming she has the flu.
  • April 26: Neighbor witnesses homeless camper go onto property and remove item from neighbor’s porch.
  • April 30: Another call to report that the fairgrounds campers/foot traffic problems were getting far worse than the week before and that nothing seemed to be improving. Dispatch said the same thing as the previous call. They were sorry. They thought things were getting under control. They said an officer would come out.
  • May 1/2: Two men on bikes screaming obscenities as they rode past a home (4:15 pm). Neighbor phoned non-emergency at 11:55 pm to report a couple screaming at each other. They said thank you and that the report was noted. They said to call back if the screaming stops.
  • May 3: People screaming and yelling at the Fairgrounds at 11:15pm. Neighbor decided not to call since it didn’t seem to be doing any good.
  • May 4: Call to non-emergency at 6 pm to report a guy shooting up drugs with a needle on the sidewalk directly in front of a home.
  • May 5: Neighbor reports that someone had come up to her door and rung her doorbell two different times and that she was scared. He lit a cigarette and left her house and then came back again and hung around for a few minutes. She’s a single woman who is an ER nurse. Neighbor finds what appeared to be human feces in their yard. JWN Chair reaches out to two of our EPD Crime Prevention Specialists on problem on 13th, they express their frustration but are unable to help.
  • May 6: Neighbor reported that human feces was located in and next to her garbage can. She had unfortunately stepped in it.
  • May 7: Trash collector truck was honking a horn in the alley at 8:30 am since a guy standing in the alley was talking to himself and wouldn’t move out of the way.
  • May 8: Ring camera captures trespasser at 2:30 am on neighbor’s property at 13th & Tyler.
  • May 9: Neighbor reports an unhoused person chasing down and harassing someone he didn’t even know, interact with a neighbor, and steal from another neighbor’s porch. Neighbor emails Mayor Vinis, she says, in part: “My ask of you is to please provide me with the plan that mitigates the illegal homeless tent camp lining 13th Street between Adams and Tyler.  At any given time, I see the camp people not socially distanced and gathering together with seeming disregard to Governor Brown’s mandate. The camp is growing every day and we have 50 or more unmasked resident campers across our home path daily. We are approached for money and find garbage and what I believe to be human waste on the strip between our yard and the street.”
  • May 10: Now 27 tents and tarps on 13th Male seen in yard picked up a stick and started swinging it threateningly like a weapon and walked back and forth along their sidewalk.
  • May 11: Call to 911 at 9:16 pm to report a guy screaming and throwing a water bottle at a car in the middle of 13th Avenue. Emails sent by neighbors and JWN to Chief Skinner, Sarah Medary the pro-tem City Manager, and LHHS Director Gaffney on situation at LEC and 13th No reply. In an attempt to get some traction with the county, I include Commissioner Sorenson and LEC Manager Corey Buller and remind them that the camping along 13th is on the parking strips and property LEC and the county controls regardless of city easements. Eugene city code allows for those who control these areas to invoke trespass, ask people to leave, and if they do not leave, EPD can remove them.
  • May 12: Mayor Vinis replies to JWN and neighbor’s email, says she will reach out to staff about the problems. JWN Chair contacts Director Gaffney about situation on 13th I request an explanation of how the clusters of tents along 13th Ave meet the intent of CDC Guidelines (the rationale for not moving them) but she does not reply.
  • May 14: I have an hour plus Zoom meeting with Chief Skinner, Sarah Medary, the pro-tem City Manager, and Emily Semple. The main result is EPD places camera trailer on W. 13th.
  • May 14 Midnight: The entire neighborhood was awakened by loud booms. A tent was on fire on 13th near Tyler. Neighbor reports homeless people laughing and leaving the scene quickly. The fire fighters and police pulled up to put it out just before another boom went off. JWN Chair requests that 13th Ave campers be moved inside the LEC fence line, but Director Gaffney is unclear how it would improve the situation. I explain that Skinner reported that campers do not want to use the shelter because it required they follow rules, further, that moving people into the LEC means that the County is responsible.
  • May 15: Commissioner Sorensen reports a neighbor told him that her tires were slashed, and that garbage and recycling bins were turned over by homeless people near the fairgrounds and that there was a propane fire in one of the illegal camps, prompting multiple police cars and fire trucks to come.
  • May 16: Director Gaffney notifies us she is having the people on 13th move into the fairground if they are willing, but otherwise people must leave.
  • May 17: Neighbors on Tyler near 13th call police after people climbing over and breaking fences in their backyards.
  • May 30: In a phone call with Director Gaffney she states that she did not direct the city to take any actions, including suspending the camping ban, only advised them to follow CDC guidelines.
  • June 5: As LEC shelter closes, tents start appearing on 13th Ave again.
  • June 8: Last campers cleared from 13th.

Westmoreland Park

The area in question lies between Albertsons and Amazon Creek, near Caesar Chavez Elementary School.

This email from a neighbor on May 18:

My backyard is right on Westmoreland park. Here are my weekend experiences.

Friday around 5:30 pm a fire was started in the field, I called 911. By 6 it was heavily smoking and no one was around it, so my husband called 911 again. At 630 a fire marshal came to our front door, i walked him to the back yard so he could see exactly what we called about. He said that cooking fires would not be put out or even disturbed. Saturday there were several loud arguments in the tent city, foul language and screaming all day long. Sunday, wanting to enjoy the sunshine, I took my 3 year old out to the bike path with her balance bike. I have avoided the path for a few weeks and was disturbed by how much worse it has gotten. The tents are so close to the path, that the people and belongs “spill out” and block the bath. I was not able to allow my kid to ride her bike, due to the bike parts, blankets, trash and debris ON the path. We watched as the people in the tents recklessly threw bike parts and empty drink containers into the field, and then on the foot bridge by Caesar Chavez, there were 2 people dumping things into the water. We had to turn around and walk Polk. Not ideal, as the traffic is scary to a 3 year old!

The situation in general has drastically affected my life. I am home with 2 children, with very few outdoor opportunities besides the bike path.  I had been taking my kids for a walk to the boys and girls club and back home almost every day, until one of the of the men actually approached my daughter and told her that he had noticed her several times. He said she wore distinctive yellow rain boots and was easy to spot. I was so scared by that interaction that I shook the rest of the walk home, and we haven’t walked that route since. To have a man, wreaking of booze, approach my three year old child, and talk about how noticeable she is, scared the daylight out of me. Now that the path behind our home has been completely taken over by a disrespectful and threatening population, i have to DRIVE my kids to another access point to safely use the bike path.

Over the last several weeks, our household has made dozens of calls to both 911 and non emergency dispatch. The situation has only gotten worse. I feel i am shouting into the void with every call. Friday was the FIRST time any official had responded, and it was only to explain that there was nothing to do.

I am so disgusted by the camp, complete with drug use and dead bodies, that I regret buying a house in this neighborhood. 

Events Timeline

  • April 26: JWN contacted EOC to report a tightly bunched tents by Albertsons and the Fern Ridge Path. Suggest they bring in a portable toilet and hand-wash station.
  • May 4: EOC states they have requested a portable toilet and hand-wash station (8 days after initial request)
  • On or about May 6 a portable toilet is deployed. Later report was a social service non-profit, not the city, made the deployment.
  • May 16: 911 fire call for cook fires in the dry fields. Fire Marshal arrives and tells neighbors he will not prohibit open fire, even though it is prohibited in park.
  • May 18: Chief Skinner states he is assessing the situation at Westmoreland. Again, he invokes CDC Guidelines as an impediment.
  • May 21: Chief Skinner communicates they are not moving campers out of Westmoreland unless here is specific health or safety issue.
  • May 29: City begins to clear parks. Neighbor reports: “I am feeling very trapped and surrounded by the “Albertson encampments.” They are primarily in a field behind the Albertsons near the creek and then extend south into Westmoreland park and extend west all along the creek and bike path. Since covid hit our only ‘out of the house’ activity was to walk to the grocery store or walk in the park and now it’s full of homeless people who are in various states of mental capacity and I don’t feel safe walking anymore.”
  • June 5: notified that Westmoreland Park was posted and will be cleared as of June 10.
  • June 10: Westmoreland Park is cleared.

Other Areas of Concern

930 W. 11th

Residents at this address have allowed several people to camp on their front lawn and in the parking strip and large quantities of debris have accumulated. This is from a neighbor: “For over two months, we have been subjected to loud arguments, piles of trash, police calls, fire department calls, needles, bike parts, the list goes on. I would like to confront Otis, but I am concerned about making myself and my home a target, literally. These people have lit fires in the curb wells of West 11th. I don’t need a fire-bomb chucked at my house in the middle of the night by them or one their many visitors in retaliation for not wanting this camp there.”

June 7: The owner of the property has been issued a Notice to Correct violations. They have until end of day June 7th to remove tents/shelters and belongings from the front yard.

June 19: Tents/shelters and belongings still in the front yard.

14th and Lincoln

On May 13 a neighbor noted a woman and her tent camping, along with a lot of debris, on the corner and called the EPD non-emergency number.

May 19 the camper was there with considerably more garbage and stuff.  She called a neighbor a “fucking ass-hole” as she stood across the street.  She was acting erratically and EPD was called.

May 25 there was an additional tent, three men with her, three bicycles, and a great deal more stuff and garbage.  EPD was called a third time and the neighbor was told with Covid they were putting the homeless problems on a list to be dealt with as time allowed.

 

Attempts

This email encapsulates the frustration with the city and county’s policy choices and refusal to change course or take action to address the obviously serious problems they created.

May 6: Email to city manager, EPD, and Emily Semple detailing deteriorating conditions in the JWN and asking for a meeting, only one Crime Prevention Specialist responds. I get an auto out-of-office reply from Jason Davis on May 8 and another from Corey Buller on May 10.

All,

I need a meeting ASAP, either on Zoom or masked-up in-person, about the escalating problems in the JWN caused by unsupervised camping.

The situation in the JWN, between car campers at Monroe Park (seriously, that blue van has drawn multiple behavior complaints for over 6 weeks and you still can’t get it moved?), campers on 13th, on Tyler, and in Westmoreland Park by Caesar Chavez school are causing serious and escalating problems for residents. It takes a lot for a JWN resident to complain because we are used to all the typical urban/downtown problems, but I have been hearing a lot from folks. People are getting woken up at night, dealing with trash (or worse) in their yards, getting yelled at and otherwise harassed including people knocking on doors begging for money, and theft. Single women and the elderly are particularly impacted. Over the years, we have worked very hard to reinforce standards of conduct and what and what is tolerated and, by and large, the reputation of the neighborhood was well-known. 

However, since the city has allowed camping almost anywhere, and in conjunction with the shelter at the Lane Events Center, we have become a nexus for homeless activity in all the worst ways. This is not about the presence of homeless people or failure to have compassion; it is about the behaviors of a subset of that population and their impacts on residents who are already under stress being confined at home and many facing an uncertain financial future.

All the work by residents and the city to make the JWN safe and clean has been largely lost. A healthy and viable JWN is a critical lynch pin in a heathy and viable downtown and that will be instrumental in the economic recovery.

The city’s laissez-faire approach to homeless encampments in public space is clearly a failure and the outcomes of such an approach should have been plainly evident. They were certainly evident to anyone who has witnessed the dynamics around unstructured sheltering in public space. I have yet to talk with any EPD or other city employee who has to work in the field who thought this was a viable “plan.” The current situation was easy to see coming and could have been avoided. It certainly poses a public safety risk to proximate residents.

The city’s laissez-faire approach to homeless encampments in public space as a public health strategy is clearly a failure and the outcomes of such an approach should have also been plainly evident. Camps are larger and denser than would otherwise be the case, the homeless are not sheltering in place, but moving around looking for better places since the city is allowing them to camp almost anywhere, and obviously not social distancing. This poses a public health risk to proximate residents as well as the unhoused.

While we are happy to do our part hosting a shelter at the LEC, we are unwilling to continue to be forced to host homeless campers in public spaces. Many homeless are fine, but some are not, and the current unacceptable conditions are a direct result of public camping. You simply can’t have unsupervised camp sites – it does not work. If you are going to allow camping, it needs structure and on-site staff. 

Therefore, I would like a meeting so we can discuss the city enforcing the camping ban within our boundaries, particularly around the LEC and Monroe Park, and clearing our parks and open spaces. 

The city needs to take responsibility for the problem it created. The neighborhood should not have to pay for the city’s mistakes.

Conclusions

The inability or unwillingness of the city of Eugene and Lane county to take any significant action to mitigate the pervasive problems that plagued residents between March 24 and June 9, 2020 represents a catastrophic failure of leadership and an abdication of the most basic responsibilities of government to its citizens. The “strategy” on the unhoused during the COVID 19 crisis not only significantly increased the health risks for the homeless but inflicted significant hardships on the residents of Jefferson Westside. The record clearly shows that the failure of city policy was completely predictable from the onset and the JWN repeatedly requested the city to change course to avoid the tragedy that unfolded. The city of Eugene and Lane county completed abandoned its own residents, leaving them trapped in their homes, with little or no recourse. The emotional toll on residents already stressed during a pandemic will persist and was inflicted needlessly and gratuitously. What trust existed may be unrecoverable.

The city and county refused to use the acres of open spaces and parking lots (completely empty for the duration) under its control to establish safe refuge during the emergency. The obvious solution from the onset, if there was true concern for the unhoused population, was to establish safe, sanitary, and managed camping areas. They did so for a tiny fraction of the homeless while leaving the vast majority to fend for themselves. The land was there, the capacity was there, but the will to act was not. Instead, they were perfectly willing to step aside and let chaos unfold on the streets of an urban residential neighborhood.

To compound this farce, the city had no exit strategy to demobilize ad hoc camping in public spaces. In early April, once it became clear the city was allowing camping anywhere, I asked what their exit strategy was, as such camps could not persist after the immediate crisis was over. The city had TWO MONTHS to formulate a plan and wasted the opportunity to make a bold and long needed move on sanctioned managed camping sites. Instead, at the end, they simply and cruelly told campers to leave, to the oft heard questions of “where,” the oft heard answer was “not here.” Even after suffering for months from these camps, neighbors were sickened with despair at the plight and police were left with a gut-wrenching duty for which they are not trained and despise.

This represents the continued inadequate response to the immediate needs of a large unhoused population. The city leadership has repeated dodged its responsibility and externalized the costs and impacts on certain neighbors and businesses while burdening EPD and city park and public work crews with the unending and fruitless task of trying to manage an unmanageable situation. The heroic efforts of Eugene private non-profit service providers, some of the best in the nation, provide only grim triage on a problem of such scope that only government can address. We have resources that few other cities can boast, what we lack is leadership.

At any point during between March and June the city and county could have made efforts to mitigate the severe and ongoing impacts on residents detailed in this report. The only mitigation, clearing Monroe Park and moving campers on 13th Ave inside the LEC, were only made after persistent and repeated requests by the JWN and residents. The hours spent compiling this miserable account pale in comparison to those spent by residents desperately trying to hold their neighborhood together, protect their homes, and maintain some level of sanity as they were serially ignored by those charged with protecting them. To call this an epic failure, a debacle, and a travesty is an understatement. City and County leadership should be deeply ashamed. The JWN will not forget.

This report was compiled by Ted M. Coopman, Chair, Jefferson Westside Neighbors based on accounts by the impacted neighbors, email threads with neighbors, city and county elected and appointed official, and staff, as well as direct observations. All identifying information has been removed to protect neighbors, many of which expressed concern over facing retaliation for speaking out.

Photo Appendix

Destruction at Monroe Park

Lack of social distancing at Monroe Park

Lincoln and 14th

Debris Removed from Westmoreland Park Camp after the Final Sweep June 10

13th Ave Tightly Packed Tents on Parking Strip

13th Ave No Social Distancing

The following document was unanimously endorsed by the JWN Executive Board submitted to City Council on June 8, 2020.

A conversation borne from frustration for how the unhoused were managed during the COVID 19 crisis and the resulting neighborhood impacts between myself, Heather Selicki Operations Coordinator at White Bird, and Laurie Hauber, Staff Attorney, Oregon Law Center/Lane County Legal Aid has resulted in a series of recommendations for mitigating some of the impacts of homelessness on neighborhoods as well as blunting the effects on homeless people of using police, with the resulting high costs, to enforce the camping ban. We feel that these are relatively minor adjustments that do not involve changes in ordinances, still regulates camping, and can set us on a path for a more serious effort on short term harm reduction. It also places agency and responsibility on the homeless themselves as well as starting a conversation on the best uses for sworn officers. Moreover, these recommendations can set the stage for future cooperation between service providers, neighborhoods, businesses, and the city and county on practical solutions.

This came together at the last minute when we realized there was no exit strategy for homeless campers going into Phase 2 and the endorsements here were gathered in only three days. An amended submission with more signatures and organizations will be submitted soon, as the providers are meeting June 9 and more neighborhood association boards will be able to meet and vote.

 

Where Can People Go?  City of Eugene Homeless Services Immediate Policy Recommendations

“For those of us working on policies that intersect with re-opening and law enforcement, we can make public our commitment to establishing policies that don’t create more harm.” – Oregon Public Health Association

In the past three months, social distancing measures have left us with only 250 shelter beds for the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Lane County, 45% fewer spaces than we had at this same time last year. On Friday, the temporary respite sites that provided overflow capacity for people to shelter-in-place will close, leaving those who sought refuge there to join with the flood of newly unhoused people as residential evictions resume.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Federal advisor on the COVID-19 pandemic, along with top epidemiologists, have stated that without a vaccine this virus will likely be with us for the next six to twelve months or more. The CDC clearly recommends that the unhoused need sanctioned places to shelter in small social distancing groups. Lane County has a population of 4,100 unhoused people. Research estimates that up to 40% of people experiencing homelessness could be infected during the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic without efforts to prevent the spread of this disease.

The City and County have expended significant time and money responding to unhoused complaints:  citing, arresting, adjudicating, and jailing the unhoused because they do not have the resources to maintain shelter, sanitation, or garbage disposal. Penalizing people for having nowhere to go has tremendous costs, both to the unhoused individuals and the community at large.  Whether intentional or not, punitive measures against people who are unhoused create additional, often insurmountable barriers for people to access housing and employment.  The accumulation of debt from unpaid fines, which adversely impacts credit scores, along with outstanding warrants and/or jail time traps people in a cycle of homelessness that becomes increasingly difficult to overcome.

The mere threat of a citation takes a significant toll as well.  This fear, along with frequent move-along orders force people into more remote, less secure settings where the risk of being a victim of a crime increases, and the constant fear of being a victim poses detrimental health risks.  In addition, maintaining the current system is very expensive, it is far less costly on communities for people to have housing.  Policing the homeless for their mere status of being unhoused overcrowds our court system and our jails and diverts much-needed resources away from addressing crime that is a real threat to public safety. With limited resources, preventing noncriminal interactions with the police should be a priority.

The immediate recommendations below are proposed short-term policy changes to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 and until additional temporary sheltering locations have been established.  This is in the best interests of all citizens of Eugene, housed and unhoused.

Recommendation 1.

Define places where sheltering in place, including sheltering in a vehicle, is prohibited at all times, such as residential areas, within 15 feet of building entrances and the Downtown Activity Zone (other cities have enacted similar measures).

Recommendation 2.

City Council should direct law enforcement to follow CDC guidance and not disperse existing temporary shelters to  other locations as long as there are no violations such as private property trespass or other criminal behavior, and the site does not pose a significant health and safety risk that outweighs the need for individuals to shelter in place.  It is important to note that there are several examples around the country of cities that modified their enforcement practices in the past few years with respect to laws that disproportionately impact the unhoused, including practices to minimize closure of encampments until viable shelter or housing becomes available.

Establish guidelines for people in unsanctioned sites to protect health and safety and to reduce the need for law enforcement to shut down a temporary shelter site. It must be clearly communicated that unsanctioned camping is a violation of Eugene Code 4.815, Prohibited Camping, and therefore the site could be closed by EPD at any time. The purpose of these guidelines is to give individuals concrete information to help them maintain a healthy, safe living situation that does not interfere with surrounding residents and businesses.

Recommendation 3.

Establish an alternative dispatch system to using law enforcement when a complaint only involves prohibited camping and there is no threat to public safety or crisis response necessary. Instead of directing callers to the Eugene Police Department’s non-emergency line or Public Works, create a “One Point of Contact” type reporting system available online or by phone staffed by trained information and referral specialists (possibly managed by designated nonprofit) to assess resource needs, track interactions, and provide follow up communication.

Supporting groups might include adequately trained service-based nonprofits, faith organizations, businesses, or neighborhood associations.

Recommendation 4.

Require non-EPD sworn officers as the first responders when a complaint only involves prohibited camping and there is no threat to public safety (in addition to the City’s outreach team, this could involve CSO’s and possibly designated nonprofits). This would reduce EPD’s expenses and is more likely to result in a positive outcome with the unhoused.

Partnerships with security agencies could provide support when problems occur to assist support teams and divert the need for police involvement. Supporting groups to serve as responders could include service-based nonprofits, faith organizations, businesses, and neighborhood associations.

 

In Support:

Service Providers

Laurie Hauber, Staff Attorney, Oregon Law Center/Lane County Legal Aid

Heather Sielicki, White Bird Clinic Operations Coordinator

Alex Farmer, White Bird Clinic Front Rooms Program Coordinator

Benjamin Brubaker, White Bird Clinic Executive Director

Chris Hecht, White Bird Clinic Executive Director

Priscilla Gould, Chair PacificSource Foundation for Community Health and Retired United Way of Lane County Executive Director

Dan Bryant, SquareOne Villages

Kirstin London, Human Rights Commission

Wayne Martin, House Everyone and pastor

Amanda Hampton, Looking Glass Rural Program Supervisor

Amanda Hampton, Program Supervisor, Looking Glass Rural Program

Carrie Copeland, Community Supported Shelters Board Secretary

Terry McDonald, Executive Director, St. Vincent De Paul

Mike Yoshioka, St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County Youth and Family Services Manager

Elaine Walters, Trauma Healing Project

Paul Solomon, Sponsors Executive Director

Laura Johnson, Sponsors Director of Program Development and Amazon Neighbors

Michelle Hankes, ShelterCare Executive Director

Sheryl Balthrop, Eugene Mission Executive Director

 

Faith Community

Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein, Temple Beth Israel

Ruba Byrd, Pastor, Eugene Friends Church

Businesses

Nick Ciufo, President, Tao Gardens

Dan Issacson, CEO, Nakd Farms

Neighborhood Associations

Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Friendly Area Neighbors

Southeast Neighbors

South University Neighbors Association

Neighborhood Association Board Members

Anne Millhollen, Chair, Neighborhood Leaders Council Committee on Housing and Homelessness and North East Neighbors, East Area (1) Representative

John Faville, Northeast Neighbors, Board Member

David Saul, South Eugene Neighbors, Board member

Ian Winbrock, Co-Chair, Neighborhood Leaders Council, At-large board member, Whitaker Community Council

Kara Steffensen, Chair of Amazon Neighbors Association

Melissa Takush, Board Member and Social Media Manager, Amazon Neighbors Association

Rachael Latimer, Board Member, Amazon Neighbors Association

Tom Peck, Board Member, Friendly Area Neighbors

 

Residents

Steve Piercy, Co-Chair, Friendly Area Neighbors Transportation Committee

Branden B. Johnson, resident of Eugene, JWN, and Ward 1 for the past 7 years

Richard Self aka Sam Broadway KEPW Newsday, Eugene

Debbie Hebert, South Eugene Neighbors

Jay Mosely, JWN and Westside Shelter Search Team

David Huffman, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Stephanie J. Coopman, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Nancy Hafner, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Chris O’Neil, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Paul and Peggy Boudin, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Vanessa Wheeler, Jefferson Westside Neighbors

Derek Lamson

 

With Caveats

Lane Independent Living Alliance: LILA supports the recommendations, but we ask for specific wording “accessible sites” as this is essential for people who experience disability.