Homeless Camp Inches Forward

Article excerpt

Byline: Patrick Malee The Register-Guard

The City Council on Wednesday took a notable but tentative step toward establishing at least one major government-sanctioned homeless camp in Eugene.

In a 7-1 vote during its weekly work session, the council approved a motion put forward by Councilor Mike Clark directing City Manager Jon Ruiz to evaluate potential locations and processes for the creation of at least one safe and secure homeless camp within city limits, as recommended by the Opportunity Eugene Task Force.

Ruiz's staff will do that research during the council's six-week break that starts July 26. The results will be presented to the council in September, less than a month before the Oct. 1 date that the task force had recommended for opening the camp.

Given the uncertainty about the possible locations that the staff will come up with, and what the council will do, the timetable for establishing a camp remains up in the air.

Potential roadblocks include neighborhood opposition to proposed camp sites, and the cost and difficulty of policing and otherwise regulating a site.

Demands for a permanent camp for the homeless emerged in the wake of last year's Occupy Eugene efforts to establish a place where homeless people could lawfully congregate and live. The Occupy Eugene encampment started at the downtown Park Blocks, moved to Alton Baker Park, then landed next to the University of Oregon, and finally moved to the Washington-Jefferson Park, before being disbanded by the city in December.

At its height in the Washington-Jefferson Park, the camp consisted of a few hundred people in about 100 tents of varying sizes, and several tarp-covered structures, including a general gathering area, tepee, geodesic dome, library, reading room, and booths for first aid, information and dispute mediation.

The camp attracted transients, homeless people, street youth and social activists.

The city then created the Opportunity Eugene Task Force, which issued a series of recommendations, including the creation of a spot where people with tents or other similar shelters can set up residence. The city and St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County already sponsor a camping program for people who live in campers or other vehicles.

Advocates for a city-sanctioned tent camping area say that in the absence of such a location, homeless people camp illegally under bridges or on vacant lots.

Wednesday's move by the council went a step further than Ruiz had proposed. Going into the meeting, Ruiz was recommending that the council set another work session to "finalize the policy framework" for a homeless camp and evaluate the Opportunity Eugene Task Force recommendations.

Still, some advocates of an official homeless camp remained skeptical after the vote. Councilor George Brown, one of four councilors who was part of the 58-person task force, voted in favor of Wednesday's motion but wasn't convinced it would pay immediate dividends. …