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Homeless Shiver as City Hall Stands Empty

Gwendolyn Iris at City Hall
Gwendolyn Iris at City Hall

Two Occupy Eugene protesters got cold and in trouble for calling attention to homeless people who are cold and in trouble. The activists received citations for criminal trespass in the second degree around 1:30 am Monday after scaling the chain-link fence that blocks off Eugene’s City Hall. The Occupiers were protesting the city’s lack of action in providing homeless people with a safe place to sleep during the winter.

Gwendolyn Iris scaled the chain-link fence around 2 pm Saturday, Nov. 17, during a memorial to 20 Eugeneans who have died on the streets this year, and she locked herself inside the fenced-off area. At that time, she told EW she planned to stay until arrested or until Monday morning, when she would leave for work. Jason Miller later joined her behind the fence. 

Iris says the city spent $70,000 on the fence that was erected around City Hall after the city vacated the building in August but no money is being spent to prevent the homeless from dying during the winter. After the closure of the Occupy camp at Washington-Jefferson Park in December 2011, City Council approved the use of $100,000 to open a facility similar to the Egan Warming Center that would help house homeless people with substance abuse issues through that winter, but the facility was only open Dec. 22-24.

“The fact that they spent this much on a fence to keep people out of a public building that could be keeping people warm but can’t come up with the $100,000 to save lives in the middle of the winter really goes against everything that Eugene claims to be when it says it’s a human rights city,” Iris says.

EW has asked the city to confirm the cost of the fence. The city previously spent $2,000 to put a fence up around Washington-Jefferson Park after the Occupy camp was closed.  

In addition to monetary issues, Iris says that fencing off City Hall causes a practical problem. “They closed down one of the few public restrooms they have in the downtown area, which forces people to find other ways to relieve themselves, kind of an ironic expense that they made to keep people from going in there,” she says.

Iris, who has been involved with Occupy for a year, says, “just because I’m on this side of the fence doesn’t mean I’m going to stop talking about this issue.”