Photo by Donny Morrison

Unable to Help

The city threatens a one-time Eugene mayoral candidate and her family with crippling fines for allowing the homeless to camp during the pandemic

Since April, 75-year-old Pat Hadley has been living in a tent on a planting strip between busy W. 11th Avenue and the home of a sympathetic Eugene family. You may recognize the house as the one that used to have a gigantic, hand-painted Bernie Sanders sign out front.

The occupants, Zondie Zinke, Otis Haschemeyer and their two daughters, say they’ve allowed Hadley and one other camper, outspoken homeless advocate Eric Jackson, a safe place to pitch their tents because of the city’s inability to provide adequate housing options for the growing homeless population. 

“We’re not really looking to make a statement,” Zinke says. “We’re actually just responding to two human beings who clearly need a break. That’s it.”

Jackson, who’s remained a polarizing figure in Eugene’s homeless community since 2017, helps take care of Hadley and keep things tidy. Zinke and Haschemeyer run a line of power out to the campers’ tents so they can charge their phones, and a number of the neighbors help to keep them stocked with books and food. 

However, the city says the camp isn’t legal.

According to city code, permitted overnight sleeping can only happen in the backyard, with reasonable bathroom and garbage accommodation. On June 2, Zinke and Haschemeyer received a letter from the city of Eugene’s Code Compliance Services that said they’ve gotten multiple complaints about the campers in front of their home.

The letter stated that if they didn’t clear the tents within a week — and ask Hadley and Jackson to leave — they’d be subjected to fines of up to $2,000 a day. 

Zinke and Haschemeyer say they don’t feel comfortable telling the campers to leave when there’s nowhere else for them to go. They say the only places the city allows the unhoused to camp are removed from downtown — and away from resources that help them survive. 

“It’s a moral argument,” Haschemeyer says. “I think it’s immoral for me to push people off my property who are living safely and push them back into the public realm during a pandemic. We’re not even offering them much. Just a place to camp.”

After a month of email correspondence with the city’s Building and Permit Services, the city gave a final notice July 2, saying that despite several extensions to either move or clear the camp, it’s only continued to grow bigger. If it’s not cleaned up by July 8, the home owners will be subjected to fines. The city notes that the family can appeal — but it’ll cost $250.

It’s a Full Time Job Being Poor 

Hadley was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to a single mother who worked in a factory for minimum wage. She was poor and began working directly out of high school. Hadley says she’s done all types of work — including even writing for an old alt-weekly in Seattle called Northwest Passage at one point — but mostly she ran printing presses in Oregon and Massachusetts, before deciding to return to school. 

“I didn’t go to college until I was 46,” Hadley says. “I consider myself a blue collar broad.”

Hadley has a dry sense of humor that Zinke says entertains her whole block. Their daughters, ages 11 and nine, have grown fond of Hadley, referring to her temporary shelter as a “sleepover,” while Hadley cracks jokes from her tent.

“It’s a full time job being poor,” Hadley says. “The only reason anybody is rich is because they don’t wanna work hard like me.” 

Hadley says she went to the University of Oregon for a master’s degree in public administration, but never  graduated. 

She says St. Vincent de Paul had helped her find low-income housing in 2016, but that she had been evicted shortly after for allowing her granddaughter to stay with her without passing a background check. She’s been homeless ever since. 

“I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic. I worked for over 50 years and my Social Security is $550 a month,” Hadley says. “For this to happen at this point in my life, I was stunned.”

According to the city, for Zinke to let Hadley, or anybody, camp on her property, they would need to be in the backyard, or behind a fence, and have access to bathroom facilities and garbage pickup. Zinke says that the backyard isn’t an option because that’s where her children play, and it isn’t safe during the pandemic. 

“Pat Hadley is somebody who really deserves a modicum of stability,” Zinke says. “And all we’re even offering her is ‘You won’t have to move,’ but now she’ll have to move and it’s deeply destabilizing her life.”

ZInke ran for mayor in 2020 on a campaign built around helping the unhoused. In 2018, she sent an email to Mayor Lucy Vinis attempting to bring awareness to the unsanitary conditions of sanctioned homeless camps in Eugene.

In the response, Vinis reminded Zinke that she could allow a camper to stay on her property, so long as they have access to a toilet — either the one in her house or a port-o-potty. 

Zinke and Haschemeyer don’t feel comfortable allowing the campers to use their house bathroom during a global pandemic, and they’ve already paid to get larger trash cans, something the city hasn’t offered to reimburse. The city has made no offer to help with a port-o-potty, and both Zinke and Haschemeyer say all they want is to work with the city to make sure these people are taken care of. But they’ve received no help.

“It shouldn’t be that hard to entice people away from a curbside where they get nothing but a thin line of electricity,” Zinke says. “We’re happy to work with them to accommodate in ways that do meet the codes here. If they want them behind the fence, then port-o-potties is probably all it would take. But they aren’t offering that. They aren’t offering anything.”

After a month of emails and extensions, Zinke and Haschemeyer fear the end is near. Community members have offered to raise money to fight the fines, but Zinke is reluctant to accept. She’s too uncertain about the future. 

“I think the truth is that the city will win,” Zinke says. “We can’t take a risk with fines. We can’t even interpret what the fines would be the first week. If it’s $2,000 a day, in just a matter of months, we’d be over the value of the house. We would lose our property.”

Although Hadley might be forced to move in under a week, she has no real idea where she’ll go yet. But she isn’t asking for much. 

“Ideally I want a little cottage somewhere, a place no one can bug me,” Hadley says. “I want a space. A house. A small little studio maybe.”

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