Hunger Strike for Shelter

Conrad Barney says you never have it all while being homeless. “It almost seems like places have two out of three things that you need,” he says. “We have an ample supply of material; we have water and clothing and blankets because our community cares.” Barney commenced a hunger strike Dec. 11, he says, because the city’s camping ban makes something that’s important in rainy cold Eugene, shelter, difficult to attain.

Eugene Municipal Code prohibits camping on public property, which means the tools of shelter — like bedding, tents and heaters — can’t be used, making it difficult to sleep and to stay dry and warm. Police often wake campers and tell them to move along. “It’s really detrimental to the health of our homeless community,” Barney says. “They’re constantly being awoken, and it’s causing sleep deprivation, which can be hazardous, as well as exposure to the elements.”

To find an acceptable public place to protest or sleep, homeless activists might have to go back in time. In 1995, activist-turned-attorney Tim Ream spent 75 days in a tent on the steps of the old Federal Building to protest the controversial salvage logging rider. On the last day of his protest, more than 100 people set up tents in the federal plaza to join him for the night, uninterrupted.

Since beginning his hunger strike, Barney has gotten support from shelter advocacy group Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep (SLEEPS), and he is drinking water and taking nutritional supplements. “The first week there were issues,” he says, “but before my hunger strike I was woken up many times and would be lucky to get two or three hours of sleep at a time. It takes its toll.”

Since the group set up its first camp Dec. 10, SLEEPS representative Jean Stacey says, it has been evicted from its camping protest sites eight times, including three times at county-owned Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, twice from the old Federal Building, once from the new U.S. Courthouse, the courthouse gardens and the City Hall parking lot.

SLEEPS sought an emergency injunction to allow its protest at the old federal plaza, but federal Judge Ann Aiken denied the motion. “Judge Aiken did not give us the temporary emergency injunction because she said there were plenty of other places to protest,” Stacey says. “However, we’ve been to eight places and we’ve been kicked out of eight places. It involves city, county and federal land. So where are we to go?”

Barney would end his strike with the creation of a forum, the backing of an organization or a platform of some sort, “anything,” he says, that would give disenfranchised people a voice and gather resources for the community to solve the issue of shelter.