A discussion that started in the May 10 budget committee continues in the May 15 council work session. If the county is responsible for human services, housing, and public health, why is the city spending so much on homelessness?
[00:00:15] Councilor Mike Clark: From my standpoint, I’ve seen the city over time move more and more and more heavily into the issue. Now, the issue is the most important to the people in the vast majority of the people in our community, of course.
[00:00:27] But this is a county issue. Let’s be clear. They’re the health authority for this area and for the county as a whole, they have clinics with primary care responsibilities and provide the majority of mental health care in our community. The state recognizes them as that and they are properly the correct place for this issue to be addressed.
[00:00:50] And because we think more needs to be done, we’ve moved into this field of endeavor more and more and more over the years to the point where we’re spending multiple millions a year on it and we spent a lot of one-time federal dollars to stand up more camps and now we’re in a place where we’re having to make difficult choices about closing our primary services that are our responsibility, because we’ve moved farther and farther into the county’s responsibility here.
[00:01:23] And I’d like to encourage a different conversation with our partners, a conversation that consolidates some of the work. We have the Poverty and Homelessness Board, and we have HSC (Human Services Commission) and we have all different kinds of people efforting at this, where it needs to be more centralized and under the county’s banner.
[00:01:42] They’re the ones getting the predominance of state funding and they’re in charge of where it goes and deciding whether it should be the city or the county. And I think it should be housed where it belongs in the most efficient place to take care of the issue better.
[00:01:56] And I’d like to see us not build more structures to deal with the issue at the city level. Again, it’s affecting our budget and our primary responsibilities. And with the current policy direction and the things that we’re putting into place, building evermore camps, we’re not solving this problem. And I think we need to rethink our approach.
[00:02:19] Councilor Randy Groves: One of the reasons we’re having a financial problem right now as a city with a very large deficit, that’s meaning reduction and probably closing a fire station. It’s going to mean reduction in library services, which is important to the education of our youth and our community. It’s resulting (at least for the proposed budget) in a reduction of funding Greenhill Humane Society, which is going to create an explosion of homeless and unwanted animals that can potentially carry disease and create health and safety issues there.
[00:02:52] And one of the reasons we’re having this problem is we have in our community here that’s a small-to-medium size community, we have a metro city-size unhoused challenge. That means we’re trying to address it with a small-to-medium size city budget and staffing level. There’s always going to be an imbalance between what we would like to see and what we are able to afford.
[00:03:14] I agree with what Councilor Clark was saying. And this is impacting our whole community. I mean, we’re going to be living with fewer essential services because of the problem we’re trying to address.
[00:03:26] And I agree, we need the county’s help. There’s nowhere in our charter that says we are to provide housing, that is really a county function, and we need to be working with our county partners to make sure that we are all working together and picking up our piece of what is a very elaborate puzzle here and move forward.
[00:03:44] I really appreciated Ted Coopman, the chair of the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood Association, he sent us a document and I really liked how he broke this down into transitory use and persistent use. And one of the things I have heard people in this community say: They’re misinterpreting what we are actually legally required to provide. It doesn’t mean we are to provide people places to live. We just can’t disrupt rest.
[00:04:13] And so I’m not saying we should stop there, but it’s I think it’s important to understand what we are compelled to do and what is just trying to help, longer term, with a problem.
[00:04:25] But the problem with going beyond the transitory use of space, public space is just that: public space is for the public. And when somebody occupies that for a prolonged period of time, the rest of our community loses the utility of that space and that is encroaching on everyone’s rights.
[00:04:45] And so when we come up with solutions, and I don’t want to sound heartless because I actually spent my whole career trying to help people as a firefighter, we need to help people, but we also have to have the accountability piece, we have to have the responsibility piece, and we have to have the consequences piece for inappropriate behavior.
[00:05:03] And that ties back to what we heard about in our downtown. It ties back to what we’ve been experiencing in West Eugene and also Ward 7 and Ward 1. It’s okay to apply rules. We are a city. That’s part of what we do, is to ensure the safety of everyone that lives here, works here, plays here, or is just passing through.
[00:05:26] Again, going back to my firefighting days, we never asked anybody where they were from. If they needed help, we helped them. but at the same time, we expected a level of conduct in our city. We are a society and an organized society has rules.
[00:05:42] Councilor Greg Evans: I basically agree with mostly everything that Councilor Clark and Councilor Groves have said about jurisdictional responsibilities.
[00:05:51] However (and I hope Mayor, you’ll chime in on this since I’m going to reference you in this), one of the things that we have had a difficult time doing over the last 10 or 15 years, at least since I’ve been on this council, is grappling with the issues of how we work together with our county and state partners and the federal partners. Because we get funding from the feds, the state, county through the state and the feds to deal with human services issues.
[00:06:25] I have served on the Human Services Commission. Other councilors have served on the Human Services Commission in the past. It has been an increasingly frustrating situation when I was there, where some of our partners were not as enthusiastic, or shall I say wanting to step up as much in terms of supporting human services issues as others are.
[00:06:52] And then they look at the city of Eugene and say, ‘Come on guys, you, you’ve got to give us some more money.’ Even if we had it, we would, we have mostly done that over the years, but we have not had other partners to really step into that void and be able to pull their weight with that.
[00:07:13] So we need to find how to have a different way of having these conversations.
[00:07:18] I know that Mayor Vinis and Mayor (Steve) Callaway in Hillsboro have led a group of mayors to try to address the homeless situation and have more control over the funds that are coming from the state to the county, through the cities to have more control of how that money is spent.
[00:07:40] And I think that that’s where we have our real breakdown, is how those dollars are allocated, how those dollars are spent, and what they are spent on to address and alleviate the problems that we have on the streets.
[00:07:57] Mayor Lucy Vinis: I have been working with other mayors, making this appeal to the governor directly for direct allocations to cities to help us address homelessness.
[00:08:07] At this point, we are also in a position where the city of Eugene, this council, one of our priority requests of the legislature in this session is for $7.5 million dollars to help sustain the programs that we have already invested in. So those safe sleep sites being critically important. And this city was able to stand those up because we had federal ARPA dollars and those expire.
[00:08:31] So our request directly the state legislature right now is to help bridge the gap and provide us with that $7.5 million.
[00:08:39] I think the larger question, as you have stated, is that counties traditionally, they are the continuum of care organizations. Dollars to support housing and human services go through the county. The city of Eugene really, I refer to the city as the emergency room, right? We address the emergency that’s on our streets and if we’re going to get out of that emergency, we need that larger constellation, that hospital of services that the county and the state can provide.
[00:09:05] But in the immediate term, we actually need that support for those emergency services, which are dire. The demand is dire. So, you know, if this were simple and straightforward, we would do it. I mean, nobody wants to see people living in places unfit for human habitation for prolonged periods of time. No one wants to see the impact on our community. People should have a safe place to sleep. They should access services and if we were able to provide it, we would.
[00:09:30] And I think the challenge is: What does that set of emergency services look like? And this city has developed a very robust homeless team addressing that.
[00:09:40] John Q: Eugene grapples with a growing budget gap, as three councilors and the mayor agree, counties are responsible for housing and human services. The budget committee meets again Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.