As Fires Burn, Eugene Threatens Its Poor

Our city government is continuing to spend our tax dollars and human resources to harass and displace vulnerable residents during two simultaneous public health emergencies. This past Thursday morning, Sept. 10, during the COVID-19 pandemic and with raining ash and thick smoke throughout the city from historic wildfires nearby, Eugene police in N95 masks removed unhoused people sheltering in a Whiteaker public park. Instead of protecting and serving our unhoused residents by providing them with masks and safe places to shelter, our city confiscates their meager possessions, issues citations and orders them to move off the property or be arrested.

Nearly 9,700 people in Lane County are currently unhoused. The temporary fire shelters that were opened for displaced homeowners and renters will not hold everyone. Where will unhoused people go to find shelter? Where will they find masks? What will happen when COVID attacks their weakened lungs in the coming months? How many unsheltered people will die in the streets of Eugene this winter?

It disgusts me to see how inhumanely the city of Eugene and EPD are treating our community members. During an escalating pandemic, as out-of-state freshmen come from COVID hotspots to UO dorms and our air quality is literally off the charts, the city is consciously choosing to spend our resources to criminalize homelessness and endanger the lives of the most vulnerable in our community. It’s time to reallocate EPD’s hefty $67 million budget into opening adequate overnight shelters for our unhoused neighbors and allowing them to shelter in place on or in public land/parks/buildings. This is an issue of life and death.

Eowyn Soran