Lane County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1, approving a resolution declaring homelessness an emergency during its Tuesday morning Sept. 10 meeting.
The declaration was symbolic in nature since the county doesn’t have language in the Lane County code for a homeless emergency, and the language wouldn’t establish any law or provide access to resources. The resolution was preceded by a board direction to county staff to research homelessness emergency declarations put in place by other jurisdictions.
The county staff report says Lane County is facing an increase of 524 of homeless people, according to the 2019 Point in Time Count. As a result, the county has had more public comments regarding homelessness.
Commissioner Pat Farr said he would carry a copy of the resolution in his pocket because it’s a call to action. In fact, he made a point to fold the paper up and put it in his pocket during the meeting.
“We can act. We have been acting. We should act, and we should profess our action at every opportunity we get,” he said.
Farr’s comments apparently touched Commissioner Joe Berney, who said he had to wipe a tear after Farr’s speech.
Commissioner Jay Bozievich voted against the resolution. He said while the resolution and staff report said the resolution was symbolic, the resolution’s language indicated the declaration had “value.” The board shouldn’t declare a “meaningless” declaration that serves only as a virtue signal.
“About eight years ago when I became a board member, I stopped the board from doing resolutions of this kind,” he said. “They cost minimum $800.”
Bozievich added that the board shouldn’t be continuing down the path of making these sorts of “meaningless resolutions.”
Berney voted in favor of the resolution but agreed with Bozievich comments on the symbolism.
“My disappointment is that this won’t change at this point in time the operations of the county,” he said.
Farr said a resolution is only symbolic if you let it be one. Even though the resolution’s language says it’s symbolic, the county is taking action on homelessness, making the resolution more than a symbol, he added.
Commissioner Heather Buch said homelessness and housing is the “greatest issue of our time” and disagreed with Bozievich’s comments about being just a symbol.
“Through decades of disinvestment from our federal government, we are seeing this on the ground in our communities every day. We see where we’d have folks on the street downtown or low-income neighborhoods now all over our community in every income level throughout the county,” Buch said. “We have a huge emergency on the table.”
The final comment before the vote was Farr remembering Annette Lorraine Montero, who was killed Monday, Aug. 26, by an early morning garbage truck while sleeping in an alley.
“We can begin to keep track of which homeless people are dying, how they die and how we can take steps on the ultimate emergency — the one that causes deaths,” he said.