A sign from the original butterfly lot protest camp in late October, 2018.

Butterfly Lot Protesters Are Back

Protesters have returned to the lot and have no plans to move

Over this past weekend, the homeless protest camp returned to the Lane County-owned “butterfly lot” (on Eighth Avenue and Oak Street).

The protesters, most of who had relocated to the camp off of Highway 99, returned to the butterfly parking lot after news arose that the Lane County Board of Commissioners might be adopting a curfew ordinance for the lot. The ordinance would make illegal to trespass on the butterfly lot 11 pm to 6 am.

The earliest a decision on that ordinance could be made is during the next Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 27.

The protest camp at the butterfly lot originally formed in October after a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a case in Boise, Idaho, ruled it was unconstitutional to criminalize sleeping in a public place if there are no alternative shelters for people to use.

Protesters slept at the county-owned butterfly lot and faced no forceable relocation as the lot is public property and had no legal curfew, unlike other public spaces in the downtown area — like the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, for example.

Those protesters moved voluntarily to the new camp site off of Highway 99, started by the county (now partnering with the city), in late October.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 14, there are an estimated 15 protesters back at the butterfly lot, a camper named Ricardo says. Ricardo refused to give his last name, as, he says, he prefers to stay “behind the scenes.”

Ricardo says the protest campers are unsure of whether there will be any action taken against them.

“We started writing our names on all our stuff,” he says, in case the city or county forces them to move.

Ricardo also says other people from the camp off of Highway 99 are being encouraged to join the protesters at the butterfly lot.

The county released a statement on the butterfly lot yesterday, Nov. 13, using carefully worded language.

Its statement says that Lane County “respects and supports every person’s right to free speech,” but continues: “The illegal camping that is occurring on the Butterfly Lot is not a form of lawful protest. … When it comes to access to public property, the laws in our community apply to everyone; it is important that those laws are enforced in a reasonable manner.”

The statement says that county and city officials, as well as the Eugene Police Department, have communicated with the protesters, but says nothing about using any force to make them leave.

“It is our hope that individuals choose to move,” it says.

The statement also says that the county and city are working to encourage those who are unhoused to use the 99 camp, although it was at capacity the first weekend it opened.

Officials from the city reiterate the same thing.

“The city will continue to work with the county to encourage people at the butterfly lot to utilize services and safe places that are available including the camp at Highway 99,” Laura Hammond, the city’s community relations director, says via email to Eugene Weekly.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that there were 50 protesters at the site; 15 is the correct quote.

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