Spray-Painting to Stop Homeless Camps?

Citing local, state and federal codes, activist Alley Valkyrie says the early morning April 5 arrests by the Eugene Police Department of four men and four women, ranging in age from 18 to 38 years old, for camping under an overpass did not follow official policy, and were also a violation of human rights.

Valkyrie says the campers, who were sleeping under an overpass at Ferry Street Bridge, were woken up and arrested at around 1 am April 5. She says six others were left behind to “clean up the mess” and take care of the arrested campers’ dogs, but they were told they would also be arrested if they remained at the location another night. Valkyrie wrote in letter to the mayor and City Council that “Eugene Police Operations Manual (Chapter 3, Section 308.18) states that the police are to give 24-hours written notice when they plan on enforcing the camping ordinance on public property, which the police failed to do.” She says the city claims not to arrest people for camping, when in fact it does. The plight of the homeless who lack safe places to sleep has been a source of debate in Eugene recently and will be the topic of an upcoming City Council work session.

Valkyrie says that when the campers returned — because they had nowhere else to go — the police had spray-painted “no trespassing” on the overpass. She questions whether the police had the authority to do this and says the spray-paint job wouldn’t look official to anyone coming up to the site.

Police spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin says a growing number of “travelers” have been coming to the downtown area, and officers visiting the former gravel parking area under Ferry Street Bridge “have observed the piles of trash and the odor of raw sewage.” She says that EPD officers have warned the campers they are not allowed to camp there and have asked them to move, and adds, “We have heard, but have not yet confirmed whether officers spray-painted signage.”

Valkyrie and other homeless advocates gathered volunteers to clean up the site. She says the eight campers were originally charged with criminal trespass “despite the fact that there weren’t any posted ‘no trespassing’ signs, which are required in order for police to arrest for criminal trespass without first issuing a warning,” and held at the Lane County Jail until about 2:45 pm April 5. The city prosecutor changed the charge to “prohibited camping,” and Valkyrie says the campers were each fined $100.

McLaughlin says EPD has initiated an internal affairs investigation and notified the police auditor.

Mayor Kitty Piercy responded to the letter, saying, “This is very troubling and not in keeping with the positive direction we have been trying to maintain,” and said she had asked for more information on the issue.