January 24, 2022

Ken Neubeck: Our lack of affordable housing is killing people

Julie Lambert reports on Eugene's solstice memorial recognizing the 33 unhoused human beings who died here during 2021.

Julie Lambert reports on Eugene's solstice memorial recognizing the 33 unhoused human beings who died here during 2021.

Audio

Julie Lambert: Recently on the winter solstice, a candlelight vigil was hosted by the Eugene Human Rights Commission and its Poverty and Homelessness Work Group to honor and remember those persons who have died here homeless in the last year. One of those who came to gather in remembrance was Ken Neubeck, who has some background on this solemn occasion.

[00:00:26] This is Julie Lambert with KEPW, and we are here on National Homeless Memorial Day. And my guest is:

[00:00:35] Ken Neubeck: Ken Neubeck.

[00:00:36] Julie Lambert: And Ken, can you tell me a little bit about why we’re here tonight and how it got started here?

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[00:00:42] Ken Neubeck: Yeah, National Homeless People’s Memorial Day is something that’s celebrated around the country. I’m not sure exactly how many years has been celebrated here in Eugene? Probably a decade or so. Basically it’s here to honor and allow people to remember persons— they may have been loved ones or neighbors, or just people that they came into contact with—honor them. They’ve died homeless and homelessness is a major source of illness and death. People who are homeless die on average of 20 years before people who were housed.

[00:01:10] And so we have about 30 to 35 people every year here in Eugene who pass away who are homeless. And so tonight we’re allowing, we’re hoping to have people here who are from both the housed and the unhoused community to raise our voices as allies, as people who remember the humanity of the people who passed on and I think it’s just a way not to let people’s lives go unnoticed.

[00:01:34] People who are homeless are just as important as any other human being. And they’re like you and me, they might’ve had some very traumatic experiences during the course of their lives that has left them out in the streets. They have the same needs and desires and wants as the rest of us do. The tragedy, I think, is that by keeping people from having affordable housing, which is really the source of the problem in the first place, you’re actually killing people.

[00:01:58] And so it’s not the fault of the people who are homeless or are dying. It’s the fault of a society in which not enough awareness as evolved to help people understand the importance that all of us have, that all of us have a contribution to make to the society. So it’s, I think it’s a great loss to lose people who are, they may be mothers who are of small children who have been, had to leave home because of domestic violence.

[00:02:24] They may be prisoners or served their terms and are now out on the streets because employers and landlords don’t want them. And maybe youth who have run away from home because they’re gay and their parents object to that. People who were just unemployed and can’t make enough money to provide first and last month’s rent and security deposit.

[00:02:41] And that’s the case for many elderly people nowadays, as the rents go up, social security payments, or even social security disability does not go up at the same anywhere near the same rate. And so people who are elderly are among the main groups for whom homelessness is rising in this country. And that’s a very sad, sad factor.

[00:03:01] So I guess one of my points is that the homeless population is extremely diverse. There’s no one solution to it. All the City in our cases is treating it as if there is one solution to it all. You know, how people set up camps and tents and that’s not meeting the human rights violation that homelessness is. People need to be indoors.

[00:03:20] They need to be in a safe and secure place with a lockable door. They need to be housed and building tent sites. It’s begging the question. People can die easily outside in tent sites from hypothermia in the cold weather, even though they’re in this, in, in their sleeping bags or whatever.

[00:03:39] So this is an event which I think is reminds us of what we have in common with people who pass on, you know, we’re all human beings. We all have the same human rights. Some of us are much more fortunate than others in terms of where we were. In this structure of this society, some of us were born well and have a fallen and a, you see that out here in the homeless population too. Some people never really had much of a chance and they’re really replicating the poverty and trauma from the poverty that their parents very well might have experienced, but all these people are all important. All these people are good. And I think we’re here to remember that

[00:04:13] Julie Lambert: Well here in 2021, we are going to commemorate and celebrate and memorialize and mourn the people that we lost. Do you see anything changing

[00:04:24] Ken Neubeck: Not dramatically, no. I think nationally there’s some more money coming in to help support programs for people who are homeless. But there’s addressing the whole question of affordable housing is really what has to be done. And I don’t see signs that that’s going to be the case. We can build just so many camps Hoovervilles and whatnot, Whovilles as we call them here in Eugene.

[00:04:46] Julie Lambert: Okay. I understand that at this time, the list of the names of the people we’ve lost has been a grassroots effort. Various nonprofits and just volunteers and some agencies that’s true. Have been collecting names.

[00:05:03] Ken Neubeck: Well, there was a state law passed this year. It’s going to require every county. I don’t know if this is the coroner’s office or whatever the appropriate office would be in the county to list the names of people who were not housed. I think they’re already doing this up in Portland. They’ve found something like 140 people passed away there. I believe in 2020, we’re not doing it yet here. I believe that the law is effective sometime in 2022, so that will help us. But yeah, you’re right. A lot of outreach or informal outreach done. Eugene Weekly has been having a series of articles about people who’ve died, homeless people who’ve died and humanizing them finding out much more about them and their families and their backgrounds and what they went through. A beautiful, beautiful writing. They’ll do 13 of them this year. So we got those 13 names.

[00:05:47] And then I, number of us put out a blast to friends. We knew who were actually working on the ground in the weeds, with folks who are homeless and ask them to ask folks that they were involved with. And they remember who might’ve been lost this current year. So through that process, we were able to come up with well, as of yesterday, it was 33 names. There may be more of as of today. And of course those are probably under counts. I’m sure there’s people that we don’t for one reason or another, just don’t get identified. Hopefully that’ll improve with the the new state law.

[00:06:14] Julie Lambert: Yeah. Are you more optimistic now than you have been in the past couple of years?

[00:06:18] Ken Neubeck: Well, I’m optimistic in the sense that when I look back six or seven years nothing was really happening here in Eugene or little or nothing. And there seems to be much more going on now, but the magnitude of the problem and the urgency of the problem still are not being adequately addressed. It is a state of emergency.

[00:06:34] If we had three to 4,000 people who lost their homes because of a drastic fire in north Eugene, I’m sure we would be able to find a lot of places for those folks to, to be housed and not just put out in tents on parking lots in the City. I think it has a lot to do with stereotypes and prejudices and just lack of knowledge. And there’s a lot of education needs to be done, including education of city officials and city staff.

[00:06:59] Julie Lambert: This is Julie Lambert for KEPW, Eugene’s Resistance Radio.

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