Unhoused Eugeneans will speak at a panel during an April 7 event that the Eugene Human Rights Commission’s (HRC) Homelessness Work Group hopes will help deconstruct stereotypes people commonly apply to the homeless.
Six people who currently reside at Whoville, Opportunity Village Eugene and the city-approved rest stop at the intersection of Garfield and Roosevelt Streets will respond to a prompt and then answer questions from the audience.
“I hope at this event that we’re hearing the voices of the homeless, but they’re not going down a well,” homeless rights advocate and work group member Jennifer Frenzer-Knowlton says. “They’re going into a framework that says this is a human rights issue.”
Human Rights Commissioner Ken Neubeck says he hopes to hear panelists share how they became homeless, experiences they’ve had since becoming homeless and why they should be sheltered where they currently live. He says diversity in panelists is important.
“My other concern was that we have not just the old men, but we have some women too,” Neubeck says. “Because one of the stereotypes we’re trying to break down is that heterogeneous lump — transients.”
Panelists and organizers hope local public officials and Eugene Police Department staff will attend.
“There’s areas where Eugene has done some really great things and then there’s areas where they almost are misinformed,” Frenzer-Knowlton says.
She wants this event to give unhoused citizens, homeless rights advocates, community members and elected officials a place to start forming a productive human rights framework — one that is focused on problem solving.
Members of the unhoused community will perform music and display their art. Photographs of Whoville residents will be projected onto a wall as part of a work titled “Who’s Who of Whoville.”
HRC member Richie Weinman says he wants the public to know the goal of the event is not to keep Whoville, which Eugene City Council decided will close by April 15, or earlier, open.
“I don’t see them coming together and changing their mind on this at the last minute,” Weinman says. “The council’s already pretty much swallowed the pill on this one.”
Twelve advocates for the unhoused were arested April 1 after refusing to leave Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz’s office without speaking to him about the city’s planned Whoville closure.
“Voices of the Homeless: A Town Meeting” will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 pm Monday, April 7, at First Christian Church, 1166 Oak St.