Photo by Henry Houston

For the Record

Homeless advocate and other campers protest court, deal with new property owner rights

A row of tents appeared in the evening of Thursday, Aug. 8, on a setback sidewalk on the corner of Lincoln Street and 11th Avenue. The lead tent, facing the Eugene Municipal Court, had signs calling for a court of record.

Inside that tent leading the protest was Eric Jackson, a homeless advocate.

Jackson says his protest targets the Eugene Municipal Court because it should be a court of record, and the courthouse has denied his motion to record proceedings twice. 

“Because it’s a court not of record, they don’t have a speedy trial standard; they don’t have judicial review,” he says. “There’s no way for a public-defender client to question whether or not their lawyer did an adequate job and ask for a new trial because there’s no record.” 

By noon the next day, Eugene Police Department (EPD) showed up at the request of the empty lot’s property owner and cited Jackson for trespassing. 

On June 24, the Eugene City Council voted unanimously in allowing property owners to enforce trespassing on planter strips — that space between the curb and sidewalk. Councilor Claire Syrett said the ordinance would address the impact of “illegal campers” on daily lives of residents and wouldn’t impose on the right to assemble because picketing, for example, occurs on a sidewalk.  

The owner of the lot, Martin Henner, tells Eugene Weekly he did call the police about Jackson and fellow campers located near his empty lot on the corner of 11th Avenue and Lincoln Street. A cohousing development has been proposed, but the lot has been empty for several years. 

“It’s very peculiar that that type of person would call day one about a neat group of protesting homeless people,” Jackson says about Henner. “We’re not a large presence. We didn’t wrap the block. We didn’t break the fence down or jump on the property.” 

Jackson says the group was smaller than the protesters who had been located across the street from the Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse. He adds that at first he wanted to protest the Eugene Municipal Court alone and not camp overnight — break down the tent and move somewhere else overnight. 

Jackson says he and other campers have already received two other trespassing citations since the council approved the ordinance. He says they’ve been told to leave locations near Eugene Electric Station and outside the federal courthouse. Campers were removed from the courthouse because of a bike rack installation on the planter strips, he adds. 

Jackson says he plans to challenge the trespassing charges because the ordinance passed by the City Council seems to violate the Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Martin v. City of Boise that nobody can be arrested or punished merely for being homeless. 

Jackson says the ordinance punishes people for being homeless with criminal penalties. 

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to be jailed for either living in public spaces, homeless in violation of Martin or in violation of the First Amendment,” he says. “It’s not like I’m protesting random places and showing in the middle of neighborhoods saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m protesting the city on your front.’ These are obviously very targeted locations.”

Jackson says he planned to stick around the Municipal Court since he and the Civil Liberties Defense Center are challenging the constitutionality of a curfew imposed at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.

Jackson and his fellow protesters moved across the street to the planter strip located near St. Mary Catholic Church after Henner reported the group’s presence on his property. 

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, after receiving complaints from St. Mary Catholic Church, EPD Sgt. Julie Smith issued citations to Jackson and other campers. The city of Eugene also scheduled a cleanup of the area the day before.

When citing the protesters, Smith says she notified them that there were open beds at the Eugene Mission and at Dusk to Dawn.