Randy Groves was a firefighter in Eugene for 36 years. During this time he was deputy fire chief for 10 years and fire chief for 10 years. As chief, he merged the Eugene and Springfield fire departments to save money during the budget crunch of the Great Recession.
Groves retired in 2016, but he’s now seeking to get back into city government as the city councilor representing Ward 8, where he’s lived since 1983. Ward 8’s Chris Pryor is not seeking re-election, and Groves is running against Ryan Moore for the open seat.
In a recent interview with Eugene Weekly, Groves said he has the experience needed to tackle homelessness and to create affordable housing in Eugene.
Groves decided to run for City Council after Pryor told him that he wouldn’t seek re-election. He respects Pryor’s work and wanted to be his successor.
Pryor hasn’t officially endorsed anybody yet, but he praises Groves.
“I think Randy is a good representative for the diverse people of Ward 8,” Pryor writes in an email. “He is a consummate problem solver, and he has my full support.”
Groves is endorsed by the International Association of Firefighters, where he was a labor leader for 10 years.
He says his work experience has given him direct insight into homelessness in Eugene. He proposes creating more medical services and supported housing for the homeless.
During his time as a firefighter, Groves regularly saw homeless people with chronic health conditions in medical emergencies. He says firefighters would pick them up in ambulances. Nurses and doctors would treat them in hospitals. Then they’d be thrown back onto the street where their health would worsen, and the cycle would be repeated.
He says this revolving-door system doesn’t actually help homeless people, and it costs the city tons of money. It also increases emergency room and ambulance bills for other users, he says, because they have to cover costs incurred by homeless people who can’t pay their bills.
Ambulance services in Eugene are paid for by users, not taxes. The base rate for a ride is over $1,800 and around $24 per mile.
“When I retired in 2016, only 17 percent of our ambulance users were paying for the service,” he says. “It’s gotten worse since then.”
Groves says the city should collaborate more with nonprofits like White Bird and Occupy Medical to provide homeless people the basic health care they need to stay out of ambulances and emergency rooms.
Nationwide, homeless people are three times more likely to use emergency services than their housed counterparts, according to a study conducted by Bay Area homelessness expert Dr. Margot Kushel.
He also suggests building more supported housing for homeless people — homes that include the medical or mental health support that some people need to permanently stay off the street.
A good start, Groves says, is the Commons on MLK, Lane County’s 51-unit fully supported housing complex for the chronically homeless, projected to be finished fall 2020.
Some unhoused people don’t need the expensive, intensive support that the Commons on MLK will provide but still can’t live completely independently. He says there should be housing designed for them, too.
For longterm solutions to homelessness, Groves wants to focus on helping children succeed.
“We have to go further back in the pipeline,” he says. “If we could catch kids and help them complete school and develop marketable skills, maybe we can break up the generational homelessness we’ve seen.”
Groves says that city government and the Eugene school district need to work together to ensure kids are being taken care of when school isn’t in session, such as during weekends and holidays.
He also has proposals for housing.
“We need to increase the inventory and the diversity of housing that’s offered,” Groves says.
Groves notes that the rental vacancy rate in Eugene is less than half the national average, making Eugene a bad place for renters.
Like fellow Ward 8 candidate Moore, Groves says the city needs to quickly implement State House Bill 2001, which allows building additional dwelling units on most single-family plots.
He also supports building more apartment complexes downtown and on transit corridors like West 11th Avenue and River Road. Ward 8 covers an area of west Eugene that includes most of West 11th, starting near Chambers Street in the east and ending at Greenhill Road in the west.
Groves says many old and abandoned single-family homes in Eugene should be rehabilitated or turned into multi-family dwellings.
He is looking for support from people all over the political spectrum. Groves says his experience working with two executive teams, two city councils and four labor unions to merge Eugene and Springfield’s fire departments shows his ability to build consensus between people with different views.
“I’m coming from inside the system, but I’ve demonstrated my ability to think independently,” Groves says. “I’d be a good fit for this position.” ν