Praise for a South Eugene fifth-grader: Speaking June 6 with Southeast Neighbor Gerry Meenaghan, Councilor Matt Keating.
[00:00:07] Councilor Matt Keating: …When you read your daughter’s words, it was, like, I could tell it was like the highlight of the night and an ‘Aha!’ moment for some of my colleagues.
[00:00:18] John Q: He was referring to Gerry’s comment at a public hearing in the city council chambers last month. On May 15:
[00:00:25] Gerry Meenaghan (Southeast Neighbors): Good evening, Mayor Vinis and city councilors. My name is Gerry Meenaghan and I’m a resident of Councilor Keating’s ward, Ward 2 here in the Emerald City.
[00:00:35] I’m here to express my appreciation and support of your recent unanimous vote to restrict camping within 100 feet of the Willamette River and other waterways, and 1,000 feet of educational facilities. I promise you that there are many here in the city and many who cannot attend this evening who applaud and agree with your vote on this issue thus far.
[00:00:58] For a little bit of a different perspective, I asked my 10-year-old daughter Aria, a fifth-grader at Camas Ridge Community School (who couldn’t be here this evening due to some sports practice), what she thought of these restrictions on camping in public spaces.
[00:01:10] And she said (and I paraphrase here): For the waterways I support this restriction because I’ve read articles in the Register-Guard and have seen it with my own eyes that there’s a bunch of trash and junk on the shores of our waterways. It’s not only unpleasant to the people who see it, it’s also harmful to wildlife and the quality of the water. (End paraphrase.)
[00:01:30] So we all know that camping along the Willamette and Amazon Creek has been nothing short of an ecological disaster with significant negative impacts on public health and safety. I appreciate councilors, Councilor (Randy) Groves, I know you were one who went with the Willamette Riverkeepers to see it in person with your own eyes.
[00:01:46] When I recreate on the Willamette in the summer—and I do that a lot, it’s a beautiful gem of this city—I’m constantly terrified that my kids are going to be stepping on hypodermic needles or worse when wading and swimming in the river. I think that’s a legitimate fear of many who use that river.
[00:02:01] Regarding educational facilities, Aria says (again, I’m paraphrasing here): I’m in fifth grade now and have walked to school every day since kindergarten. I’ve seen unhoused people camping almost every day when walking to school. For children, it can be scary. It can feel like something to be avoided and can feel unsafe.
[00:02:17] We kids should be able to feel safe on the way to and from school and while we’re at school. It can be difficult to concentrate and study when you’re seeing unhoused people on their encampments from school or during the commute. I’ve seen homeless camping daily while walking to school. Needles and human waste can be dangerous around children, especially small children who don’t know better than to step in or pick them up (end paraphrase).
[00:02:39] Lastly, Aria adds, and I agree with her wholeheartedly (and I paraphrase here): The unhoused need a safe place to sleep, and the city needs to build and support shelters where the unhoused also can feel safe because they deserve it. End paraphrase. So please stand by your initial votes on this issue and protect our waterways and schools while continuing to identify and invest funding sources to provide effective shelter and services to our own house population. Thank you.
[00:03:05] John Q: At Southeast Neighbors June 6:
[00:03:09] Councilor Matt Keating: So I appreciate the testimony, the thoughtful testimony and hearing from a youngster’s perspective, hearing from a young student’s perspective about what they have to do to, I mean, she’s in fifth grade if memory serves right. (That’s right.) It’s fifth grade? Hearing from a fifth-grader’s perspective about what they, how they have to navigate to get to school was heartbreaking.
[00:03:31] John Q: Councilor Keating said he suggested a no-camping zone around the library.
[00:03:35] Councilor Matt Keating: As we’re adopting the state’s 3115 (I believe House Bill) from a couple sessions ago to be compliant with state law, I did advance a concept that ultimately was agreed upon by a council majority at a vote of 6-2, that will prohibit unauthorized camping within 1,000 feet of an educational facility.
[00:04:01] That includes daycares and it includes the library where there’s been, it’s been a hotspot of problems. Law enforcement was right there in the conversations ensuring us that a two-and-a-half block radius, around 1,000 feet, is enforceable.
[00:04:18] And so I know in my heart we did the right thing. Councilors (Lyndsie) Leech and (Emily) Semple, they have their own reasons and need to answer their own constituents. But we got it through with the majority. And I really want to express my appreciation to you and the Southeast Neighbors for standing up for what’s right. Thank you.
[00:04:38] John Q: The councilor also expressed concern about Lane County budget cuts:
[00:04:43] Councilor Matt Keating: And I also want to make it really clear at the same time we continue to beat the drum for adequate funding to support a transition of our unhoused residents to get them access to support, access to low barrier shelter, and ultimately transition into more supportive housing.
[00:05:04] On that front, in my role as chair of the Human Services Commission, Councilor Groves and I have been beating the drum for Community Supported Shelter funding through the county, which was a $0 line item. That was a shocking $0 line item that would ultimately cut services to our rest stops and our community supported shelters.
[00:05:26] Our rest stops, especially Nightingale, have an amazingly high success rate in getting folks connected to long-term supportive housing. I want to say Nightingale has expressed to me that they have around a 70% success rate. And so to cut the funding that would connect services to those Community Supported Shelters is troubling.
[00:05:46] So, Councilor Groves and I floated motion within the Human Services Commission to restore $300,000 of funding for Community Supported Shelters, and I suggested that the county pony up $150,000, City of Eugene $100,000, and the City of Springfield $50,000 to meet that $300,000 goal that’s been zeroed out.
[00:06:11] John Q: The board gave a round of applause to the Southeast Eugene fifth-grader and her father:
[00:06:16] Southeast Neighbors: Well done, Gerry! Yay, Gerry! Woohoo!