It’s instructive to begin on 7th Avenue and Washington Street in Eugene on any given winter evening.
From that starting point, walk the windy asphalt trail through Washington/Jefferson Park. You see them instantly — tarps and tents by the layered dozens, each containing stories of homeless men and women who are holding threads of dignity.
The tarps and tents are properly spaced (a nod to COVID-19), but they are everywhere under the viaducts of the Washington/Jefferson area, or those areas that the city of Eugene has not walled off.
Walk slowly. Absorb it.
Then walk north, over a gentle embankment and past more emergency shelters, and you find young basketball players and younger skateboarders testing their skills. Beyond that, you’ll find a collective of social workers handing out hot chili and clothing donations.
Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s remarkable to see it still, the juxtaposition of life in a seven-block park.
And on Jan. 8, on another cold and damp night, past 1st Avenue on a tiny section of Washington Street and off park grounds, there was the hour-long second annual candlelight vigil in honor of the lives of our homeless neighbors who died on the streets.
The Candlelight Vigil to Mourn Death on the Streets in 2020, hosted by Stop Death on the Streets (SDOTS), drew more than 100 mourners. Members of SDOTS led the mourners in music, spoke of the punishing isolation the homeless feel daily and read off the names of 30 men and women who died on the streets of Lane County in 2020.
The juxtaposition of the vigil’s site was startling, too.
It happened on a vacant piece of grass across the street from four modest homes with lights on and curtains drawn. The mourners gathered choked off access to this tiny portion of Washington Street.
Washington/Jefferson Park was chosen by SDOTS because of a city sweep of the homeless there on Dec. 2 of last year. More than 120 people were displaced that day, SDOTS says, with, of course, nowhere to go.
At the front of the vigil were 12 tents with lights on inside. Nine of the tents had single words that, when taken together, read, “Where will we go? Stop Death on the Streets.”
“The government and [Eugene Police Department] have blood on their hands,” a media statement from SDOTS read in the lead-up to the vigil. Besides the 30 men and women known to have died on the streets in 2020, SDOTS’ statement continues, “With COVID-19 on the streets and winter just beginning, more deaths will surely follow.”
That’s the reality.
So take a walk through Washington/Jefferson Park. Don’t walk with your head down, with tunnel vision. Stop and take in the sight.
Because this is us. This is Eugene at the start of 2021.
The following is a list supplied by Stop Death on the Streets of the 30 men and women who are known to have died homeless in Lane County in 2020. To those fallen, and to those who could not be named, we endeavor to do better.
Odin Van Norman Erickson