Winter is coming. But Eugene’s Opportunity Village, a housing for the homeless pilot project now slated for a site near North Garfield Street and Roosevelt in the Whiteaker, won’t be up and running for at least four to six months. That’s why Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep (SLEEPS) representatives are urging the City Council to repeal Eugene’s camping ban through the winter and designate specific camping areas.
About 15 SLEEPS members have pitched their tents at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in front of Harris Hall — where City Council is couch surfing until a permanent City Hall solution is worked out — to keep the issue in the public eye.
Eugene Municipal Code bans camping, and it defines campsites as anywhere where some sort of bedding is used or a stove or fire is placed. Critics of the law say that it makes surviving on the streets a lot harder, especially during the winter months.
SLEEPS members say that even if the Opportunity Village site were to open immediately, it wouldn’t be able to immediately help on the same scale that lifting the ban could. “Opportunity Village, even when it opens, is 30 people,” says Jean Stacey, a SLEEPS member. “We’ve got 1,500 minimum, so now we’ve got to be talking about lifting the camping ban, getting those folks bathrooms, garbage containers, allowing them to cook food over hot fires and protect their boundaries, determine who comes into their camps.”
The SLEEPS request to City Council asks that, under the emergency circumstances exception in the city code, the mayor make an emergency declaration to temporarily lift the ban from 9 pm to 6 am downtown and dusk to dawn elsewhere.
The campers plan on continuing their camping protest. “We’ve limited who can camp here to people who are enrolled in SLEEPS, who’ve gone through all our training programs, who’ve signed our community agreements — no drugs, no alcohol, no violence — and who are really understanding of our mission, supportive of it and know how to forward it,” Stacey says.
In the meantime, councilors voted to move toward including Conestoga huts, small wood-framed structures, as permitted sleeping places in the city’s car camping program.