All the Whos down in Whoville are hoping the city of Eugene’s heart grows a couple sizes very soon. The city has posted notices that the site of the homeless protest camp at Hilyard and Broadway is no longer open for public use and it will “clear and clean the site,” according to a press release that went out to the media before the campers themselves were notified, a move Alley Valkyrie of the Nightingale Public Advocacy Collective called “disrespectful and dehumanizing.”
Valkyrie questions the legality of shutting down the public property, but Mia Cariaga of the Eugene city manager’s office writes in an email that the property “is not open for public use of any kind.”
Advocate Mary Broadhurst says that contrary to the perception she’s heard from City Manager Jon Ruiz, Eugene community members are very supportive of the camp, which has allowed many of the chronically unhoused, some with substance abuse and mental health issues, to have shelter and help one another. Ruiz is “rubbing shoulders with the country club set,” Broadhurst says, who are the ones who want the unhoused out of sight.
Sue Sierralupe of Occupy Medical, which also opposes closing the camp, says, “Whoville exists because people support it. The bathrooms, the handwashing station, the food, the tents, the blankets, the medical supplies all exist because our citizens support it.”
Occupy Medical says that “eviction of Whoville will only increase the risk of exposure and transmission of illnesses that have been otherwise successfully prevented or treated with our partnership,” and the free medical care group says that it has treated everything from the flu, including H1N1, to skin conditions.
Community donations have funded two portable toilets and a handwashing station at the site. Valkyrie says those toilets mean 1,500 pounds of poop are not winding up downtown. Broadhurst says that donations are not just in the form of money; people have spontaneously dropped off wood and have filled propane tanks for the warming tent. One incident that has gotten national attention is when 10-year-old Keegan Keppner, who has terminal cancer, recently came down to Whoville to provide breakfast for the unhoused campers.
Broadhurst and Valkyrie say they are frustrated with media reports, based on the city’s press release, that indicate there is somewhere for Whovillians to go. The city cites expanded car camping, Opportunity Village and a rest-stop pilot program, but Broadhurst says while the community has made efforts to house those in need there are not enough beds for even a third of the area’s homeless. She says contrary to the idea that providing housing for the homeless will attract more homeless, “94 percent of the unhoused are local folks.”
None of the available beds, she adds, are what are called “wet beds,” which she calls “a terrible, demeaning name for shelters for folks still using alcohol or drugs, including those who are addicted.” She adds, “It’s a disability, not a character flaw.”
The city manager’s office says a fence will be put up around the site and that the city is “coordinating with a number of local service agencies to transition from the camp.” Valkyrie wonders where they will transition to if there are no available shelter beds.