The City of Eugene is asked why it is contradicting public health guidance related to COVID. At a Human Rights Commission work group, Heather Marek.
[00:00:08] Heather Marek: This is really great progress with the rest stops that were approved in prior months and in these new safe sites. They take some time to implement and at the end of January, there’ll be 140 new sites, tent sites, 70 vehicles. That’s really great. You know, even as of today at Washington Jefferson Park, there’s about that many tents there (or at least a couple of weeks ago, the most recent number said there was). And I’m just curious what the City’s plans are for continuing to adhere to public health guidance from the CDC and OHA around folks remaining in place. Because what we’re seeing on the ground is that the City is, or Police rather are, citing people for very minor infractions, like having a glass bottle or too many bike parts and issuing Park Exclusions when they do. And there’s also an administrative order that will expire this month, but that prohibits any new tents from coming in. And I’m just wondering if, has the City taken the position that it’s no longer going to follow that guidance? And if not, then, how can we get it back on track?
[00:01:21] Peter Chavannes: You are asking about conversations that happen above my pay grade. I will say that our leadership has been in regular communication with public health around how to respond to the situation on the ground in WJ and 13th and Chambers. The last that I heard was that public health recognizes that there are health considerations, the health considerations are broader than COVID and are trying to work with our leadership regarding the best response to what’s happening on the ground at WJ and 13th and Chambers…. And are you asking about, um, WJ specifically, or just more broadly WJ and 13th and Chambers or more broadly?
[00:02:15] Heather Marek: I’m asking about those two sites in particular, I think just because de facto people haven’t been really allowed to remain in place in a lot of other places and those have been the major encampments and places for folks have been accessing social services.
[00:02:30] If I’m understanding you correctly, then what I’m hearing you say, and I appreciate there might be limitations to your perspective, although maybe you underestimate yourself a little bit and what you know, but if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that the City’s aware of that guidance, however it’s prioritizing other concerns over COVID guidance. Because I would think that the CDC and OHA would be taking into account the variety of public health factors and deciding in balance, that with COVID and the severe public health concerns for the folks experiencing homelessness, and then also the broader community, that they decided, in balance, that that was remaining in place was what was safest. It sounds like the City has come to a different determination than what our public health experts have.
[00:03:14] Peter Chavannes: I really can’t comment on that. I’m not in those conversations. I will say that the City, my understanding, latest information that I have, is that the City will allow folks to remain at WJ and 13th and Chambers until everyone living there has been offered an alternative location.
[00:03:33] Heather Marek: I just want to make one comment on that, and then I’m not going to like monopolize the time, but just that I have a number of clients—so this is firsthand knowledge—who have been cited and told to leave Washington Jefferson Park for low-level offenses, like, they’re not even accused of anything really related to public health, including having a glass bottle in one’s tent. Having too many bike parts is a very common one. And so I guess I’m not saying this to put you on the spot, but only to just, articulate that this is a pattern we’re seeing on the ground. And if that’s not the City’s intent at the policy level, for that to be how this plays out, that that there’s some kind of miscommunication happening with police around what the city’s intent is. And I think that it’s contradicting public health guidance and putting people at serious risk.
[00:04:23] Peter Chavannes: Heather, can you send me a list of these things? Because I do hear them kind of in an, in an ad hoc way. And, and personally, I get frustrated about that, but we’re not adhering to a practice that we’re we’ve stated is our practice. So if you could send me a list of those things, I’ll, I’ll look into it again. Um, I, yeah, I’ll look into it. I’ll look into it and, uh, see what I can find out.
[00:04:53] John Q: Peter later expanded on his remarks.
[00:04:55] Peter Chavannes: As of right now, City Council direction has been, they want WJ and 13th and Chambers closed down once we’ve created capacity to shelter people. If people choose not to do that, I don’t know what the City is going to do there, we’re not a monolith. The organization is not monolithic and we are trying to work across departments to figure out how to deal with reality that people are going to be living outside in Eugene.
[00:05:31] From my perspective, until we face that reality, we’re not going to get to a solution that—I don’t even know balance is the right word. From my perspective, people have a right to be, people have a right to be in and people don’t need to purchase space to occupy. How that plays out in our community’s political environment, I just don’t know. And so there, there are ideas that are floating around internally. We’re working through them, but I don’t have the answer. You know, what I can tell you is they will likely be some continued enforcement for folks who are living outside, how aggressive that is, I’m not sure, and how creative we are as a city organization in responding to that reality, I don’t know yet. And I think what we really need to do is have a broader community conversation about this. And it seems like we’re struggling to do that.
[00:06:46] John Q: Tuesday is the longest night of the year. Work Group Chair Heather Sielicki.
[00:06:50] Heather Sielicki: We’ll have an update on National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, which will be held on December 21st. And I’d like to turn it over to Margaret, to provide us with an update on how things are going.
[00:07:02] Margaret: Bridgette did a wonderful flyer. We’re going to have some speakers and, um, hopefully do a roll call and we’re going to keep it pretty simple. and maybe Bridgette can chime in.
[00:07:13] Bridgette Butler: Yeah, as Margaret said, it’s Tuesday, 7:00 PM at the Park Blocks. We’ve gathered names from all different organizations and people did outreach in the park, um, 13th and Chambers, just directly asking people for names. And we are going to do a name reading and candles and ring a bell and have an open mic and just hopefully create, uh, a quiet mellow space for people to remember those who have died. And Solidarity is going to be there and Eugene Community Fridge that they’ve also provide food. Um, and I think a speaker from Egan Warming is going to talk as well.
[00:07:51] John Q: Tuesday night at seven, we’ll stop to remember all those we lost while they were homeless.