The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza was ordered closed Dec. 11 by Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson after Occupy Eugene offshoot, Eugene SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep), which has been campaigning for safe places for the homeless to sleep, staged a protest there. Eugene SLEEPS is asking people to write letters in response to statements from Richardson that indicate her belief the homeless protesters created a need for the plaza to be "disinfected." In a recent press release, SLEEPS said: "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 the Free Speech Plaza reopened:
Ms. Richardson has stooped to a new low in perpetuating stereotypes and hate mongering toward the unhoused. Her allegations that SLEEPS damaged the lobby and bathrooms of the County Building and pooped in the planters are ridiculous and insulting and have been contradicted by county employees and SLEEPS date and time stamped photos.
These comments represent a phobic response to those who are unhoused, and the closure of the plaza has violated their (and everyone else in Lane County) constitutional right to gather and address their grievances at this landmark protest site.
Richardson made the statement about feces in planters to a gathering of protesters and news media on Dec. 13. The R-G reports "The plaza’s surface did not appear to have been fouled or littered during the demonstration earlier this week."
Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie was among those who returned to the plaza after the closure and elected to be arrested to assert her First Amendment rights. According to SLEEPS, Valkyrie has twice sucessfully challenged the city in free speech and rights issues related to the unhoused. The group thanked Eugene police for their professionalism.
The emails from Richardson are below. For more information on Eugene SLEEPS go to http://eugenesleeps.org
Tuesday Dec. 11
Commissioners, I wanted to let you know what we are doing with the Free Speech Plaza and the campers who are present.EPD officers are sharing with the campers our Administrative rules, which prohibit camping or camping-like activities in the plaza, as well as the expectation that speech activities will not occur between 11pm and 6am. They are informing the campers and others present that they are in violation of our rules regarding the use of that area. The area has rules for usage so that all people are free to use the plaza, and to ensure the health and safety of all of our residents and guests. We are hoping that by informing the campers of these rules, they will voluntarily comply with our requests to cease and desist from prohibited behavior. We are in close contact with Eugene staff as well as our own staff, who have reported damage to the Volunteer booth downstairs, theft from and damage to our restrooms, and complaints from visitors to the courthouse and PSB that they do not feel safe. The sanitary conditions of the restrooms are of great concern, as we do not have the staff to keep up with the mess that is being created. I have begun the process of temporarily closing the plaza if health and safety concerns remain after these contacts and requests for voluntary compliance. I will keep you updated.
Wednesday, Dec. 12
At this time, all campers are gone from the Plaza. We have one individual sitting there with a sign saying he won’t eat until there is housing for the homeless, but otherwise the Plaza is empty. We will be barricading off the lower area until we can get a cleanup crew in to clean and disinfect the area; most likely through the end of this week and possibly into the weekend.