Lane County’s parks suffer from off-season vandalism, and homeless people who are currently prohibited from sleeping in their RVs or campers in Eugene need a legal place to sleep. The Lane County Parks Advisory Committee, the Homeless Coalition and St. Vincent de Paul think they might have found a way to reduce both problems.
Beginning around Thanksgiving, or by the holidays at the latest, the Lane County Parks Division will experiment with using homeless people who own RVs or campers as hosts in parks with hookups for power, water and septic systems.
During the winter, some of Lane County’s 73 parks close, and many see fewer visitors. According to Dave Stockdale of the Parks Division, lower traffic and the lack of a security presence leads to vandalism. “For whatever reason, occasionally people will come through there and they will find a pump house or a well house and they’ll graffiti structures,” he says. “They will sometimes cut down trees. Sometimes they’ll break open electrical panels and steal the copper out of there.”
Stockdale says the problem is further compounded by the fact that the system’s 10 full-time employees can’t make it to parks as much as they’d like, especially since the 73 parks are spread out in an area the size of Connecticut. But he says that hosts in parks have already made a big difference in places like Hendricks Bridge Park.
“When the host isn’t there, even the toilet paper gets stolen out of the bathrooms, which is under a padlock, believe it or not,” Stockdale says. “The second you put a host in the park, the vandalism and problems almost go away entirely.” The hosts will be instructed not to interfere with crimes in progress; the parks department will instruct them to call the sheriff’s office or the parks department in case of problems. Stockdale says that a simple presence and a well-kept RV are enough of a deterrent to prevent problems.
Keith Heath of St. Vincent de Paul, which will be running the program, says the program can help people with jobs transition back into long-term housing. “The program was designed to help them, if they’re working, to get first, last and security,” he says. “It’s a safe place to park, and you don’t have to worry about police hassling you for being on the streets and living in a vehicle.”
When Heath last checked, 69 people were on his waiting list for legal camping, and that’s only including people over 18, not families. The program currently oversees 25 legal campsites in the Eugene area; the county parks addition could raise that number to 30.
To apply for the program, contact the St. Vincent de Paul Eugene Service Station at 461-8688.