Excluding the Exclusion Zone

The Downtown Public Safety Committee met Monday, April 8, and weighed alternatives to the downtown exclusion zone, which is deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory by opponents and is set to expire in November 2013. The exclusion zone is one part of the Downtown Public Safety Zone strategy, which also includes more popular measures like CAHOOTS vans and increased bike patrols downtown. The panel also looked at various issues from safety houses for the homeless to the banning of dogs downtown.

In its final meeting before submitting recommendations to City Council on May 13, the committee, which includes representatives from the Eugene City Municipal Court, Human Rights Commission and Downtown Neighborhood Association, brainstormed an array of ideas in an effort to help improve downtown’s image and keep homeless people — the focus of discussion — from being pushed out of specific areas. But a lack of funds was seen as a roadblock.

Beverlee Hughes, meeting leader and executive director of FOOD For Lane County, was not in favor of all of the ideas posed, but overall, she said, changes can be made. “We can be innovative and creative,” she said, “even if we don’t have the funds right now.”

Among the suggestions was one from Anne Williams, St. Vincent de Paul’s housing manager. She brought to the committee’s attention Housing First, a housing project that would give 12 to 15 people in need a safe place to stay with no curfew or demand to seek treatment. “When safety needs are not met,” she said, “it is very difficult to get anyone to put a value on improved health or dealing with substance or dealing with just about anything.”

Williams hopes that providing this safety for those in need will create a domino effect and help other aspects of their lives — she says a similar project saved $19,000 per individual in Seattle. Initial funding and sustained upkeep hinder this proposal. “The rub is,” Williams said, “year in year out, how do you do it?”

The Downtown Public Safety Committee will consider this proposal along with others when it reconvenes in May. Ideas include creating more public restrooms, partnering with the mental health system, having more positive activities downtown and implementing a dog ban and no-smoking areas.