October 7, 2022

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

HRC to ask City Council for legal protections for unhoused

5 min read
Randy Groves and Pastor Gabe chat during an open house at Everyone Village. Inset: Unhoused persons are often targets of "rolling smokeouts," here captured by Bent Spoke Outreach.

Randy Groves and Pastor Gabe chat during an open house at Everyone Village. Inset: Unhoused persons are often targets of "rolling smokeouts," here captured by Bent Spoke Outreach.

The Human Rights Commission will ask the City Council to offer legal protection to the unhoused.

[00:00:08] Commissioner Heather Sielicki: As you know, the Work Group has been advocating to recognize the houseless as a protected group in all relevant domestic legal frameworks, and we’ve submitted reports and information to City Council asking that they make housing status a protected class.

Last year they had a work session and they decided to go ahead and make housing status a protected class for acts of bias and intimidation. But they did not feel comfortable moving forward with including it under the Human Rights Code to prevent discrimination in fair housing law, employment, and those types of things. What was discussed was the concern that by making housing status a protected class, it would interfere with a camping ban and cause problems there.

So we’re very lucky to have Heather Marek, one of the staff attorneys at the Oregon Law Center, on our work group, and she spent several months really doing the hard legal work of reviewing the law. And after quite a bit of study, she determined it is not in conflict and that protection from discrimination should move forward. And you probably saw the report that in the packet, it’s about 23 pages, so I’m not going to go through all of it, but it’s point by point. And this is really to answer the questions that the Council posed to us. And I would like to recommend that we adopt this proposal or the summary of findings and send it on to the city council as a response to their original request.

Just adding protective class status, isn’t going to prevent people from discriminating, but it would at least create an avenue for an appeal and then send a message to the community that people’s human rights still matter, even if they’ve lost their housing.

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[00:02:12] Commissioner Ibrahim Coulibaly: So I want to say that we’re seeing a lot of adversity and animosity because of who they are. People we’re seeing in town here, people targeting homeless people because they are in the neighborhood and, they have to be somewhere. They cannot just fly and hang up there in the sky. They have to be somewhere. They have to be in a neighborhood. They have to be able to access and to be able to use the commodities that the city is providing. I think this is going to help folks who at this moment, are struggling with with homelessness and trying to make the ends meet.

I also want to add that Heather Marek is one of the persons I personally trust the most at this moment, in this town, as being someone who educated herself and committed schooling and time to advocate and fight for homeless people. And I trust her a hundred percent, I want to encourage each and all of you to get to know Heather. I can guarantee you that a hundred percent unhoused population in Eugene this year benefit a lot from her work and from her committee. And I want to support her in whatever she is doing, whatever she is willing to put her time and person into it and I will vote yes for this.

I worked for BOLI, the Bureau of Labor and Industry, and when COVID started we were seeing like a lot of motels and hotels refusing to take vouchers because people are homeless and they had to shelter in place. They had nowhere to go and they were provided vouchers and some motels refused to take them, ‘Because then if I take you, the regular clients, people who are paying maybe more, will not want to stay here, at my motel.’ And I think BOLI is encouraging for this to be a thing, homelessness to be a protected class, we’ll probably give them more protection for people not to be able to say that, regardless of who you are, ‘When you show up at my motel, with your voucher and whatever, I would not fulfill that voucher.’ So I encourage you to work for this.

[00:04:56] Commissioner Daniel Borson: I read the analysis— I thought it was excellent— that Heather Marek had done. There were two things that struck me most. One is the public accommodations, which Ibrahim referred to which I think is very much needed. Not just hotels, but stores any place that, yeah, being denied service because of housing status, or even perceived housing status. The other is in applications for rental housing in that this might put a little bit of a wrench in the practice of landlords, cherry picking that because as low as the vacancy rate is for rental housing in Eugene, that landlords not only are looking for someone who can meet the minimum criteria for acceptance, but they’re looking to be able to cherry pick the people who far exceed that requirement because they’re perceived as being better tenants, as more secure. And I think that adding housing status as a protected class would limit that practice as well.

[00:06:11] John Q: Councilor Randy Groves praised one of the Human Rights Commissioners.

[00:06:15] Councilor Randy Groves: Our unhoused situation continues to be a very big challenge, but there’s some really exciting things at the same time that are going on.

We’re still having some challenges getting everything in line as fast as we’d like them to be. I’m very excited about the Everyone Village that is a private nonprofit effort that looks like it’s going to be providing—through phase one and phase two—75 spaces to move people off of our streets, which is going to be good for the unhoused, it’s going to be good for the places where they are on the street now that are not designed for that purpose, you know, there’s certain hazards there. It also interferes with just daily activities, use of the streets.

Also 310 Garfield is real close to coming online. I found out today that the holdup there, it’s, a lot of it’s dealing with supply chain and it’s, they aren’t able to get the materials they need for the community gathering spot. And my attitude is, let’s just open it. Because the reality is, they don’t have that on the street right now. That’s more important as the weather gets worse and that’s something that I believe can be added.

Our own Heather Sielicki has been heavily involved with Everyone Village and the work on that. And I so appreciate what you do, Heather, and what you bring to the effort. It’s noticed. It’s appreciated. I feel like there’s still a lot to do, but we’re on the verge of starting to see some real forward progress in a problem that’s existed and been allowed to exist for a number of years now. I don’t know about all of you, I’m ready to start getting this thing wrestled down and figuring it out.

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