Council splits 4-4 on tent city concept. by Pat Farr


It was by all means a messy and contentious meeting.  It included a series of motions that resulted in 4-4 ties with Mayor Piercy refusing to break the deadlock to pass the motions.  It included the Mayor having to “shush!” Councilors Zelenka and Brown, who were chatting loudly as Councilor Pryor tried to explain the intent of a motion he was crafting.

The split was customary (and familiar):  Taylor, Brown, Zelenka and Ortiz versus Pryor, Clark, Farr and Poling.  What differed was that this time the mayor did not side with the first group.

Nobody can deny that there is a problem with homeless people who are living in Eugene.  Everybody knows, I think, that there are kids in our public schools who don’t have a home.

On Wednesday July 18 the City Council debated whether or not Eugene should have a tent city to house some of the homeless.  The Council split 4-4 on its initial vote on how to continue the discussion, with Councilors Brown, Taylor and Ortiz wanting to move forward establishing a tent city in Eugene without further discussion and Poling, Farr, Clark and Pryor wanting the City Manager to provide further information about the viability of such an endeavor and the issues and conditions that surround the possibility of establishing another camp.

People in Eugene recollect, clearly, the series of “Occupy Eugene” camps that moved around the city last year.  See related stories.

There are tent cities in towns across the USA.  Some appear quasi-military in style, some more toward the refugee mode.  The Washinton/Jefferson-Willamette Greenway tent city established in Eugene was someplace in between, but to many observers it looked more like the latter.

A tent city in Seattle

Portland's "Occupy" tent city

What would a tent city look like in Eugene?  We have a preview:

Occupy Eugene tent camp in the Willamette Greenway

When a tent city was proposed for Honolulu a local paper headlined:  “Seattle’s decade-long nightmare coming to Honolulu? The article stated:

“Hawai’i Free Press found some answers and they aren’t pretty.  Seattle’s tent cities are organizing bases for self-appointed activists who use the homeless to extract money and other benefits from various government agencies.  The residents consist predominantly of methamphetamines addicts.  They have also become a factional tool in Seattle politics used on behalf of Seattle politicians who give the organizers money and against those politicians who don’t.  The camps are moved from one district to another to embarrass and extort politicians.  Hannemann’s requirement that such camps be run by private contractors could create the same situation in Hawaii.”

Follow this link to see a video of what a Seattle homeless tent camp looks like on a rainy Pacific Northwest day.

The possibility of a camp raises questions in people’s minds.  A lot of questions.

1.  What will it look like?

2.  How will it be policed?

3.  Will it deteriorate over time?

4.  Who will be camping there?

5.  Will it attract campers from all over the region?

6.  How will security be handled?

7.  Will it fit the neighborhood?

8.  Is it the right thing to do?

Many, many more, but most significantly:

Will it be safe for my kids to walk by?

These are all valid questions.  And they are all, as of now, unanswered.

A group of Councilors and citizens, Opportunity Eugene, met last winter to discuss issues surrounding homelessness and identify possible courses of action to address homeless people’s needs.  It came up with six recommendations:

1.  Identify and establish potential sites (for a safe and secure place to be)

2.  Create and support day use community centers

3.  Improve traditional and non-traditional health care access

4.  Continue and expand existing services to the homeless

5.  Improve laws and ordinaces that criminalize and block homeless individuals

6.  Create a commission to continue to explore homelessness solutions

Since January the city has moved forward on this list, including providing more support for St. Vincent DePaul’s Lindholm Service Center, helping the Eugene Mission give greater services including medical help, identifying and strengthening agencies that are providing services locally…the list goes on.  Each point warrants a separate article.

On Wednesday, City Manager Jon Ruiz identified a policy framework to guide decision-making and several options for the Council to consider regarding item 1, potential sites to locate a tent city inside Eugene.  His recommended option was:

“Direct the City Manager to schedule a work session to: a) finalize the policy framework, and b) evaluate the recommendations of the Opportunity Eugene Task Force based on this framework.”

Eventually this motion passed.  But not without the contentious debate about a second motion (which also eventually passed), a motion that directs the Manager to bring a list of possible sites, either city- or privately-owned, that might be considered to erect a tent city.  Significantly, and contentiously, the direction also includes identifying the obstacles and conditions surrounding each site that could prevent its use for that purpose.

Moving forward with appropriate caution, the City Council will continue the debate in September.  Stay tuned.


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