Eugene Parks and Open Space has begun installing a series of fences — called under bridge security fencing — beneath the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge in the park of the same name. Advocates for the unhoused say the funds could better be used aiding the homeless, not barring them from shelter.
The rod-iron panel fences are being placed in three areas under the bridge after several concerns of hazardous materials were reported to Parks and Open Spaces, according to Park Operations Supervisor Kevin Foerstler. The project will cost $67,000, and a second phase of the project, tentatively scheduled for 2017, could amount to an additional $20,000.
“All sites have public sidewalks, and the main reason the areas are being fenced is concern expressed from park visitors and pedestrians about not feeling safe with groups of people under bridges,” Foerstler says.
The second reason for the fencing is staff having to clean up and call in outside hazardous materials teams for needles, human feces, urine and trash. Foerstler says the city spends $250,000 annually cleaning up biohazard waste from illegal camping sites. A public restroom and needle drop site are located within the park, he adds.
In 2012, Lane County used allegations of human feces to shut down a protest at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in front of the county building downtown. No feces were ever found.
Crystal Webb, a board member of the Nightingale Public Advocacy Collective, says the price tag for the fencing project has been a shock. “They could have put $67,000 into more sanctioned camps or anything to do with housing, and their problem would be eliminated,” she says. “Nobody knows what’s going on and this is just another step to criminalize homelessness.”
The park operations manager approved the fencing project, and the funding will be derived from the capital improvements budget, which is used for facility repairs, and not out of the direct operating fund, according to Foerstler.
Webb says addressing homelessness is key because she continues to see more and more people on the street. “I myself have been there. I know what it feels like to be shoved from one corner to another.”
In December 2015, the Eugene City Council voted to endorse Housing First as the primary strategy to end homelessness in the city. Housing First seeks to shelter the unhoused before helping them seek treatment for drug addiction, alcoholism or other issues that may have led to their homelessness.
The specific locations of the fencing include the flyover from West 6th Avenue onto I-105, the main deck of Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge behind the skate park and the area north of West 1st Avenue along the sidewalk, Foerstler says.
Although Foerstler says no other fencing projects are currently under way, a potential area being monitored is under a section of Coburg Road where needles, debris and feces accumulate.
The Oregon Department of Transportation says it fenced overpasses along I-105 at Coburg Road, Garden Way and [Country] Club Road.
Webb says she doesn’t believe building fences is a solution. “It also adds a fear factor to the general public,” she says. “The bars going up are going to further allow the city to criminalize them — it puts fear into people and there will just be more hatred towards the homeless.”
At 5 pm Friday, March 18, Humanity First and Badass Freedom Fighter will have a rally and march against the fences and the criminalization of homelessness. For more information, find “Homes Not Fences Rally and March” on Facebook.