March 5, 2021

City Proceeds With Camp Evictions Despite Guidance, Own Policies

Westmoreland eviction notice

The following is a recent update published by the Decriminalize Homelessness Coalition. For more information contact: decriminalizehomelessness@gmail.com

Last week, the City of Eugene continued its criminalization and eviction of our unhoused neighbors, despite promising on Monday, Feb. 8th to delay these actions until 48 hours after the projected extreme winter weather passed.

The City’s continual eviction of our unhoused neighbors and apparent inability to follow its own criteria is dangerous, dehumanizing, and in violation of COVID guidelines from CDC and OHA, which give clear direction to local governments to allow unsheltered residents to remain in place if individual housing options are not available. The following examples provide one snapshot of how the City is saying one thing and doing another and has essentially turned multiple departments of City government into a policing apparatus for the systemic harassment, intimidation, and eviction of our unhoused neighbors, during the winter, almost a year into the pandemic.

On Feb. 10th, the homes of our neighbors who lived in their vehicles behind and beside the W. 11th Walmart received notices from City staff ordering them to move under threat of citation. In violation of CDC guidelines, the City did not provide anyone with an alternative place to go when issuing these warnings. People at this site have documented disabilities.

Also on Feb. 10th, a tent camp in a public right of way was threatened by EPD with a charge of “criminal mischief” if residents did not remove tarps tied to City trees being used to shelter from the elements. Despite the City’s promise that it was not going to take action to evict anyone during the winter weather, the camp received a posting for “cleanup” and eviction on Feb. 12th. In the warning, the City listed its “criteria for temporary camping in parks” instead of its different “criteria for temporary camping in rights of way.” https://www.eugene-or.gov/3484/Temporary-Urban-Camping The City has not provided anyone at this location with an alternative place to go. People at this site have documented disabilities.

On Jan. 28th, the camp at Almaden and 5th (in a public right of way) received a “48 hour camp cleanup warning” listing the City’s criteria for temporary camping in parks (not the criteria for rights of way). The same day the notice was posted, City staff issued parking and vehicle citations to people living in the camp, many who are McKenzie wildfire refugees. After being ticketed repeatedly, threatened with eviction and told that they were out of compliance with almost every single one of the City’s criteria for temporary camping in parks, the camp was supported by volunteers in a massive cleanup effort to come into compliance with the stated criteria.

At the 5th and Almaden camp, the City failed to both follow its own notice protocol and apply the correct criteria. If the City was following its notice protocol, it would have either found the camp at 5th and Almaden had come into compliance with the stated criteria on the notice or issued a 24-hour notice of eviction saying the camp was still out of compliance. If the City had decided to apply the correct “criteria for temporary camping in rights of way” and found the camp was out of compliance, it should have issued a new 48 hour notice saying which of the criteria the camp was not meeting giving the residents a chance to come into compliance. Instead, the City came up with a brand new reason to order the eviction of our unhoused neighbors at this location, under threat of arrest—“Right of Way Closure”.

On Monday, Feb. 8th, the day the 5th and Almaden camp was expecting to be evicted, the City announced a temporary reprieve from evictions due to projections of extreme winter weather. Instead of giving these folks a break from the ongoing harassment by the City and in direct contradiction to the temporary weather reprieve, City staff continued to take actions throughout the week to harass and push people out, again, without providing anyone with an alternative place to go. Parking Services staff continued to threaten the residents with additional parking citations and Public Works staff ordered residents to clean up campsites that had been abandoned by people fleeing the City’s harassment. On Feb. 9th, City staff with Public Works ordered residents to line up the “trash” from the abandoned campsites along the street for the City to take and dispose of; City staff returned later that day with a backhoe and dump truck but only took garbage from one small trash can and refused to take the trash that had been collected and lined up by residents (including a pregnant person) as directed by City staff.

On the same day the City declared it was closing a public right of way at 5th and Almaden to evict unhoused residents, in violation of CDC guidelines and its own criteria to allow temporary camping in rights of ways, the City posted the same eviction notice to our unhoused neighbors at 7th and Jefferson.

One eviction the City postponed last week was at Westmoreland Park. This planned eviction is in violation of CDC guidelines and the City’s own criteria to allow temporary camping in parks. No one living at the park has been provided with an alternative place to move to. Many people in this camp are unhoused for the first time, and people at this site have disabilities.

On Feb. 5th, everyone living in Westmoreland Park—over 70 unhoused residents—received eviction orders from the City stating they had to leave by Feb. 11th or their belongings will be “cleared and cleaned”, which in reality, based on the City’s past evictions, means bulldozed and thrown into a dumpster. The notice states that “camping in the park no longer falls within the criteria.” If this was true, that means the City has now implemented a total ban of any temporary camping in the 47+ acre Westmoreland Park under its criteria to allow temporary camping in parks.

The City, once again, seems unable to understand and apply its own criteria to this camp. The criteria require camp sites to be at least 300 feet from City Rest Stops, yet most of the people living at this camp who received the above eviction notice reside more than 300 feet from the new rest stop.

This is not the first time that the City has chosen a location for official rest stops at the exact site of an existing unhoused community forcing their displacement. Why not choose vacant City land? The City’s choice of this particular location for a rest stop has been used by the City to conduct multiple forced evictions of encampments nearby over the past two months. City staff from multiple departments conducted these evictions in violation of CDC guidelines, without providing any alternative locations where displaced residents could move to.

Ivory Irene McCuen was known to be living in that area. Ivory died of hypothermia on January 24th at the age of 30.

Whether living in a car or in a tent, people need legal, safe places to sleep and engage in daily life-sustaining activities. Instead of identifying such places, the City continues to expend massive amounts of resources criminalizing homelessness, including issuing citations; threatening arrests and vehicle impoundment; confiscating and destroying people’s possessions and homes; posting notices for “cleanup,” compliance, and eviction; closing right-of-ways; and ordering people to move along.

Almost a year into the pandemic, the City is not taking the emergency of this pandemic seriously. The City must, at a very minimum, stop issuing citations and notices for vehicle impoundment to our unhoused neighbors and immediately identify locations where people can safely and legally shelter in place. The City should dismiss the citations that have already been issued against the unhoused.

If the City decides to evict any of our unhoused neighbors, the City must provide those residents with “individual housing options” as directed by the CDC. Emergency federal funding is available to move our unhoused neighbors into hotels and motels. The City should also be paying struggling local restaurants and food carts to cater bi-weekly feeds for our unhoused neighbors.

The City’s lack of accountability and transparency around the budget is deeply concerning. At the City Council meeting last week, City Manager Medary detailed the amount of money (and the sources of that money) the City contributed to the Commons on MLK Project, demanding the City get credit for that. That project will house 51 chronically homeless people in Lane County, which is great. To put that number in perspective, 51 people is 0.56% of the reported 9,107 people experiencing homelessness in Lane County during 2020. In 2020, there were an average number of 31 people exiting homelessness into housing per month in Lane County. That’s a 42% decrease from the average 53 people housed per month in 2019.

Meanwhile, the City refuses to calculate how much money it is spending on criminalizing and dehumanizing our unhoused neighbors. It’s time for budget transparency. The City must open up the books, release its entire line-item budget for the past 5 years, and stop hiding how it’s spending the public’s money. We have a right to know how our money is being spent.

The City must stop treating unsheltered community members as a problem to be criminalized and policed and recognize that criminalization of homelessness is expensive, ineffective, and only makes the problem worse. Research has shown that providing housing is cheaper than criminalizing homelessness. The millions of taxpayer dollars currently spent on maintaining and expanding the current system of criminalization should be redirected toward low-barrier affordable housing for all.

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