Treat the Homeless as Citizens

Being poor is not a crime, though the city pretends it is

The city of Eugene must stop persecuting the homeless and provide shelter.

Being homeless is not a way of life. For most people, it’s temporary. They’re on the street because they don’t make enough money in their low-paid service jobs to pay Eugene’s outrageous rents. The only thing they have in common is that they’re poor and unhoused. 

We have the elderly, the disabled, kids and women on the street. One woman told the Eugene City Council a while back that she had been repeatedly beaten and raped, and she felt she couldn’t tell the police because she was “illegally camping.” We’ve been told that homeless women are terrified. 

Every winter, homeless people die. Many get sick from being exposed to the rain and cold. It is a miserable, dangerous way to live, and most people do not choose it.

Meanwhile the city has failed to provide anywhere near the amount of shelter needed, and it actively persecutes the homeless, siccing the cops on them every night, forcing them to move, depriving them of sleep, giving them tickets they can’t afford to pay and putting them in jail if they don’t show up in court. 

This must stop. The city has been threatened with a lawsuit if it continues to criminalize homelessness. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a Boise, Idaho, case that local governments cannot make it a crime to camp when people have no other choice. This applies to the whole West Coast, including Eugene. Yet the City Council refuses even to discuss the city’s camping ban.

Homeless Action demands that the city of Eugene:

1. Stop citing people for camping on public land as long as they don’t break any other laws, don’t disturb the neighbors or make a mess.

2. Hire the homeless to deliver and pick up trash bags from camps, provide cheap camping toilets that use plastic bags for waste, and put more trash cans and public restrooms or porta-potties where needed.

3. Create a lot more legal “rest stop” camps around the city, on city-owned or leased land, managed by nonprofits, even if they have to override neighborhood opposition. This program has been proven to work. We just need a lot more of them.

4. Provide more city land for the car camps run by St. Vincent de Paul or other nonprofits.

5. Set up a large low-barrier homeless shelter.

6. Scatter some Conestoga huts, lockable only from the inside, around town on city land, to be used on a first-come first-served basis by individuals who cannot tolerate group shelters.

Lynn Porter ran the Homeless Action email list (Google group) for the last seven years and continues to run the Facebook page.

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