Less than three weeks are remaining of the 30-day reprieve given by the Eugene City Council on Jan. 30, and the campers at Whoville persevered through a storm that shut down schools, public buildings and stores.
The 30 to 35 residents periodically cleared snow from the tops of their tents and the walkways between them.
“I’m loving it,” Whoville camper Megan Ludwig says. “It’s not easy, but I come out every hour and my tent’s not doing too bad. So I’m loving it.”
Campers say teamwork and donations got them through the snow and ice storm.
“Basically, you take care of your own tent or somebody might do it for you,” Whoville camper Aurora Richardson says. “We all take care of each other here.”
Campers fought the freezing temperatures by gathering around the outdoor fire pit, with candles in their tents or inside the warming structure near the center of the site. The approximately 7-by-12-foot kerosene-heated structure is made up of wooden boards, blankets and tarps. Inside, campers passed around the communal guitar to pass the time.
“Most of us have gotten used to the community setting, and we need each other to take care of each other,” Richardson says. “I don’t know where I’d be if I was still downtown on the streets.”
She says campers are not going to move at the end of the 30 days if the city has not given them a new site.
“Until they give us a place where we can all go — all 35 of us — then we’re here,” Richardson says. “But we’re really confident, working with them, that they’re going to provide for us a place.”
City Councilor Alan Zelenka says Whoville is a microcosm of a bigger problem — the 1,700 people in Eugene without housing.
“The snow’s going to go away and so will the cold. But that’s not the long-term solution to any of this,” Zelenka says. “The long-term solution to this homeless stuff is preventing it, but that doesn’t help with the immediacy of dealing with the cold.”
City Councilor Mike Clark says the council is having trouble agreeing on a long-term solution to get people off the streets.
“But I think it’s real wrong that by default we’re saying ‘Yeah, I guess it’s OK [to sleep outside].’ Because I don’t think it is,” Clark says. “I wouldn’t let my kid sleep outside in this and I wouldn’t want to. So why is it OK for somebody else?”