Homeless Camps

Source: Edward Russo, The Register-Guard

Eugene’s first volunteer-run homeless camps could be located within a few blocks of each other in west Eugene, the City Council decided Monday night.

Councilors on a 6-2 vote approved allowing two homeless camps of up to 15 people apiece on city-owned parcels in the Trainsong neighborhood. One could be near Roosevelt Boulevard and Garfield Street; the other camp could be less than a half-mile away at Chambers Street and Northwest Expressway.

With the council’s action, city officials are to work with volunteer groups who have said they want to run the camps on a trial basis at little or no cost to the city.

Councilor Claire Syrett, who represents the area, said the Trainsong and Whiteaker neighborhoods have “felt a disproportionate impact” from homelessness for many years.

“I have heard from residents in my ward that they want some of these services located in other parts of the city,” she said.

But while not perfect, Syrett said, the camps would start to provide a legal place for homeless people to sleep on public land.

“We need to keep our eye on what we are trying to accomplish,” she said.

Syrett and Councilors Betty Taylor, Chris Pryor, Alan Zelenka, George Brown, and Greg Evans voted for the camps. Voting against were north Eugene Councilors George Poling and Mike Clark. Clark and Poling in September voted against the ordinance allowing the camp proposal to advance to site selection.

With Monday’s decision, the council refused to authorize a camp on a highly visible city parcel that was one of four under consideration. That lot, at East Broadway and Hilyard Street, has been occupied for the past several weeks by homeless campers who have dubbed their encampment “Whoville.”

It’s illegal in Eugene for people to sleep on public land. The council’s approval of the homeless camp and its earlier support for Opportunity Village Eugene are responses to homeless advocates who have been urging the council for more than a year to provide a legal place for homeless people to sleep.

The council chose the two sites on the advice of City Manager Jon Ruiz, who determined they were closer than the Broadway and Hilyard site to organizations that serve the homeless, including Catholic Community Services, St. Vincent de Paul’s Service Station on Highway 99, and the Eugene Mission.

Ruiz told the council that both sites provide the best chance for a “safe and successful pilot program.”

The sites are on bus lines and “are near complementary services for the population being served, and are least likely to create division and conflict within the community on an issue where support is critical for success,” he said.

Two groups have said they want to manage the camps. Among other things, they could be required to provide on-site managers, portable toilets and garbage service.

The Nightingale Collective had wanted to manage the Broadway and Hilyard camp. Community Supported Shelters wants to manage the Roosevelt and Garfield camp.

That camp would be on a fenced lot a couple of blocks away from Opportunity Village Eugene, where 24 homeless people live in small structures on a city lot.

It’s unclear which camp will open first. The council wants to see the first camp operating successfully, which would allow the second camp to follow.

The council’s endorsement of the two sites disappointed “Whoville” supporters, who accused city officials of wanting to move homeless people out of the public eye.

Eugene resident Lynn Porter said if the council didn’t want to offend “middle class sensibilities,” Whoville residents would put up a screen around the existing camp.

“I hope you don’t reject (the Broadway-Hilyard camp) because of prejudices,” he told councilors before they voted.

The two camp sites endorsed by the council are near the sprawling Union Pacific railyard.

The second site is between the railyard and Northwest Expressway, near River Road, with homes and nearby businesses, including the Adult Shop movie arcade and Beymer Heating & Sheet Metal. A small neighborhood off Holeman Avenue is next to the businesses.

Some residents interviewed earlier Monday said they are not happy about the prospect of a homeless camp returning to the neighborhood.

This past summer, homeless campers were rousted from the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza and set up a temporary camp on a vacant Lane County parcel near the neighborhood.

Longtime resident Wayne Truitt said some campers trampled a neighbor’s garden and helped themselves to vegetables. Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said a couple of cars were broken into soon after the campers showed up.

The city can help homeless people, but not by putting a camp close to a neighborhood, said Truitt, 86.

“I’ve been here almost 60 years, and I can’t see any good coming from it whatsoever,” he said.

But another resident, Betty Currier, who on Monday was in her yard putting out food for feral cats that live in the field next to the railyard, was more sympathetic.

Homeless people “have to have a safe place to sleep, not just a place down by the river where they can be murdered,” she said.

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