At its Tuesday, Nov. 6, meeting, the Lane County Board of Commissioners began a discussion on a proposed ordinance that would enact an 11 pm to 6 am curfew at the 8th Avenue and Oak Street butterfly lot. That curfew would restrict any future overnight activity at the site — such as the protest camp that occupied the area last month.
According to the ordinance memorandum, the butterfly lot is the only piece of public property in the downtown area that does not have a legal curfew in place.
The homeless protest camp occupied the butterfly lot in October, forming after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case ruled it was unconstitutional to criminalize people from sleeping in public spaces if there are no other alternative. The lack of curfew “limited the ability of the county, and ultimately the Eugene Police Department, from removing individuals that were camping on this county property,” according to the memorandum. “This will bring consistency with the curfew already adopted by the Board for the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.”
The Board of Commissioners had their first reading of that ordinance at the Tuesday morning meeting.
Twenty-two people spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting, 14 of those speakers were from the homeless population currently living at the county-owned Highway 99 shelter site (also known as Eugene Transitions Junction according to the main homeless organizer there, Eric Jackson).
A main concern from the majority of the unhoused people who spoke at the meeting, including Jackson, was the potential for St. Vincent de Paul to take over the camp and the desire for the camp to be self-governed by Jackson and others.
Jackson said that county officials had told him he would be in charge of the camp when it was first opened, the weekend of Oct. 27. But, he recently got wind of the county signing a contract with St. Vincent de Paul. He said he would be filing a lawsuit against the county.
“County officials told me, ‘This is all you, Jackson,’” he said. “To me, that’s a contract and I’m taking it to court. You guys already have a contract with me.”
Lane County’s public information officer, Devon Ashbridge, says she is not aware of any written contract between the county and Jackson. Though she says, “Anyone can bring a lawsuit against the county at anytime.”
She also says the contract between St. Vincent de Paul and the county is for an expansion of services at St. Vincent’s Lindholm Center, a center near the Highway 99 site that offers meals, showers, laundry and more.
None of the commissioners directly addressed the threatened lawsuit, but they did defend St. Vincent de Paul and its work with the unhoused.
“I have a desire to serve people in poverty who are suffering from homelessness,” Commissioner Pat Farr said. He went on to talk about the services that St. Vincent de Paul offers, such as hot meals. “It’s a bit distressing to me to hear people say bad things about St. Vincent de Paul.”
Lane County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky said due to the location of the site, St. Vincent de Paul services would inevitably be in close proximity.
“Part of the reason we identified the location for that camp is the connection to services [such as the St. Vincent-owned Lindholm Center],” Mokrohisky said.
He added: “We also recognize the need for an experienced partner to insure the continued safety and health of people at campsites.”
The earliest the Board of Commissioners would be making a decision on the butterfly lot curfew ordinance will be at its Nov. 27 meeting where there will be a second reading of the ordinance. There is also another opportunity for another public hearing at that meeting.