Sometimes a camping ban is more than a camping ban, according to Eugene homeless rights activists with Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep (SLEEPS).
Eugene’s municipal code prohibits the use of sleeping bags, bedding, tents, stoves and fires on public property, and SLEEPS says such prohibitions put a barrier between the homeless and staying alive.
SLEEPS has been calling attention to the plight of the homeless by camping in public places such as the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza and Eugene City Hall. Campers were evicted from both places. This is a similar experience to that of many homeless people, SLEEPS representatives say.
Controversy increased when Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson called for “disinfection” of the Free Speech Plaza after the protest there. The plaza was ordered closed Dec. 11 by Richardson. SLEEPS activists returned to defy the barrier erected around the Free Speech Plaza after their first protest, and one protester, Alley Valkyrie, was arrested.
Eugene SLEEPS is asking people to write letters in response to statements from Richardson that indicate her belief that the homeless protesters created a need for the plaza to be “disinfected.” In a recent press release, SLEEPS wrote: “Ms. Richardson grossly misled the public with her untrue allegations that SLEEPS campers had destroyed the lobby desk and bathrooms so that she could justify shutting down the plaza to protests.”
SLEEPS is asking that Richardson apologize and have the Free Speech Plaza reopened, and says “Ms. Richardson has stooped to a new low in perpetuating stereotypes and hate mongering toward the unhoused.” The group says Richardson’s allegations, including that people “pooped in the planters” are “ridiculous and insulting and have been contradicted by county employees and SLEEPS’ date- and time-stamped photos.”
They called her comments “a phobic response to those who are unhoused.”
Richardson made the statement about feces in planters to a gathering of protesters and news media on Dec. 13. The R-G reported, “The plaza’s surface did not appear to have been fouled or littered during the demonstration earlier this week.”
The plaza is a frequent site of protests, drum circles and other public gatherings.
The county says it does not yet know how much Richardson’s requested clean-up will cost taxpayers, and neither Richardson nor the county spokesperson commented on the request for an apology, citing potential litigation.
Activist Valkyrie was arrested at the Free Speech Plaza during the second protest there, and she’s been “trespassed” from the plaza and the county building. Valkyrie told EW, “Our position is that free speech doesn’t have a curfew.” She says, “The only thing more ironic than being arrested for exercising free speech in the Free Speech Plaza is being banned from exercising free speech there.”
Michael Carrigan, a community organizer with the Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), says that closing Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza seriously undermines the free speech rights of Lane County residents. “In all my years as a CALC activist, I do not recall that Free Speech Plaza was ever closed to the public,” he says. “If Senator Morse was still alive I believe he would have crossed the barricades into the plaza with us [Dec. 13] as we defied the county’s closure. If the closure remains in effect, I’ll join additional protests, and this time I’ll risk arrest by refusing to leave when asked by the authorities.”
SLEEPS is accepting donations in cash and seeking the items listed at eugenesleeps.org/donate/