Shots Fired

A BB gun incident at Eugene Weekly raises alarm of increasing attacks against the homeless

Sometime during a mid-December night, as two homeless individuals took refuge under the eaves of Eugene Weekly, an unknown person drove by and fired metal BBs at the building near where they slept.

Less than 30 minutes later, the person drove by and shot again.

The Dec. 12 attack may seem random, but as the divisiveness in the community surrounding homelessness worsens, attacks against the unhoused seem to be more common. EW management doesn’t think the newspaper was targeted, but rather the homeless people who have been taking shelter near it.

Bill “Spidey” was one of the people sleeping next to EW when the incident took place. He wasn’t hit, but Spidey says he figures the offender probably shot at tents in the area too.

Eugene Police Department spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin says she has not noticed any trends in crimes against the homeless because EPD’s system does not track housing status.

Homeless people are also less likely to report hate crimes. The National Coalition on Homelessness found there were 1,758 acts of violence against the homelessness from 1999 to 2017, and they believe a great deal more crimes go unreported because of how poorly the homeless community is treated in society. 

Certified peer support specialist and University of Oregon student Michael Weed says he believes hostility towards the homeless is increasing. He spent a while being homeless in Eugene and says he is now hypersensitive to violent acts against the homeless.

“I’ve seen the aftereffects of folks going by and destroying things. Several camps have been destroyed,” he says.

Weed says Facebook posts have become an instigator for these acts. Posts depicting crime or frustration with homelessness unsurprisingly attract polarized opinions, but Weed says many of the people who demonstrate violent thoughts mean what they write.

“It is people in houses following through what they say in these chatrooms,” he says. “I saw and reported over 15 comments. That is a consistent daily thing.”

One post Weed is referring to is a recent KEZI news story posted to Facebook regarding homelessness. One comment comes from Alex Fitz, who writes, “Can we pay Kahoots to go around and euthanize them?” Fitz is referring to CAHOOTS, Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets. This prompted a slew of responses in disagreement, including Weed’s and a few “likes” on the comment itself.

EW reached out to Stephen Sheehan of the group Eugene Wake Up describing the incident and asking about violence and harassment toward homeless people. Eugene Wake Up is a pro-business group formed after a homeless woman vandalized Sheehan’s restaurant.  He responded “I think the true homeless and the business owners are getting overwhelmed by the lawlessness that’s happening in our community. We need to band together to stop this.”

The situation at EW is unprecedented. Advertising director Rob Weiss says the attack is unlike anything he’s encountered in his 17 years at the newspaper. 

“No, nothing has ever happened,” he says. “The employee door was shattered a few years ago, but never anything like this.” In that incident, a person having a mental breakdown kicked at the door, but it was not an deliberate attack on the newspaper. 

When assessing the damage, Weiss found a few small silver-colored BBs on the ground near the building. BBs popped small holes in a large front windows and in the front door, and shots marked the concrete block wall and wood window frames near where the homeless people were sleeping.

EW plans to install security cameras to monitor the property in the event — hopefully unlikely — that something of this nature happens again. The paper isn’t seeking to discourage the homeless seeking shelter, but rather those who might try to hurt them.

This story has been updated. 

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