March 3, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Council asked to help with Breakfast Brigade permit

9 min read
Joanie Flaherty: "...We're going to get arrested and we'll go to jail and you'll see a bunch of septuagenarians and octogenarians in jail because that's what we were asked to do: to feed the hungry, to take care of those most vulnerable."

The city is asked to issue a permit to feed the hungry. Here’s public comment at the July 24 council meeting.

City of Eugene: Our next speaker, Lisa Levsen.

Lisa Levsen: Hello, I am a board member with Breakfast Brigade, and I’m also an active volunteer with that same group. We serve breakfast in Washington Jefferson Park, Wednesday through Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m.

[00:00:24] We’re a Food for Lane County partner, and our fiscal sponsor is Burrito Brigade. We’ve been doing this for nine years, with some different names to our organization. We were formerly Eugene Catholic workers. And before that, there was also a group called Badass Feeding Frenzy that also fed in the park. So for nine years, we’ve been feeding some of the same people, some of the same people that we see every day in this park and up until recently, that was a celebrated event by our community.

[00:01:00] We’ve had several of our city councilors, Councilor Yeh, Councilor Groves, and Councilor Keating come down and serve with us during COVID and we appreciated their support, but ever since the homeless were moved out of the parks post-COVID, the Parks Department has asked us to leave the park.

[00:01:20] They gave us a list of demands—which we have met. They asked us to not have garbage. We haul out all of our own trash. They asked us to park safely. We park safely. They said we didn’t have liability insurance because we didn’t have a permit, but we can’t get a permit. You can’t apply for the permit.

[00:01:39] So we do have liability insurance through our fiscal sponsor. The only criteria that we have not fulfilled is getting a permit, which cannot be granted because the Parks Department has decided that no permit will be given to a benevolent feeding agency. And the police department came down and threatened to arrest our volunteers, including an 82-year-old woman who serves five days a week.

[00:02:08] We’d like to work through this with Parks and we’d like to find a viable solution and we are asking for your help.

[00:02:14] City of Eugene: Next we will hear from Randolph Nelson.

[00:02:17] Randolph Nelson: I represent Ward 1, and I want to point out the breakfasts that they’re serving down in Washington Jefferson Park—I think that they’re being harassed for bringing this food down. I think that we can judge a society and a community by how good we take care of our weaker people or people that can’t survive, that need the help of the other people.

[00:02:39] And when we start pushing them away I don’t know what kind of example we’re setting.

[00:02:44] There’s some good people that come down there and do this in the first place. Eugene’s a great place and that’s how we should be judged, as a great place, (we) take care of our weak and misfortunate. Thank you.

[00:02:57] City of Eugene: Thank you, Randolph… Next we will hear from Sammy Rothauge.

[00:03:01] Sammy Rothauge: My name is Sammy Rothauge and I’m from Ward 1 and I just like to say, please don’t take our food away from people and allow us to continue to be able to have breakfast in an open space. Thank you.

[00:03:15] City of Eugene: Thank you, Sammy. Next, we will hear from Billy Harper.

[00:03:19] Billy Harper: Billy Harper. I’m here to represent food under the bridge. I first learned about it after I got out of incarceration, prison, lost my mom and then lost my grandma and there’s no comfort when some of the best people that cook for you, you love, you love your mom and parents’ food.

[00:03:37] And so I became homeless and learning when you’re on the street, cold everything, there’s no coffee, nothing. The people under the bridge provided that.

[00:03:47] And, I would go and try to help out with cleanup after they feed everybody. I volunteer on Sundays at the homeless food box, on Third and Monroe.

[00:03:58] And now, you know, trying to get rid of people that are trying to help people that want to get out of the street. I was thankful I was able to focus on that. Got myself onto my feet after they kicked everybody out, under the bridge. I was there for a year or so, and my girlfriend ended up passing away from COVID. And at that time, too, we left the park to 410 (Garfield), which was okay, but I’d rather be under the bridge close to hot food, fresh food in the morning, ah, pancakes, blueberry pancakes.

[00:04:32] City of Eugene: Next, we will hear from Barry Nobel.

[00:04:35] Barry Nobel: Hi, my name is Barry Nobel and for the past several years, I’ve volunteered on Wednesdays, serving breakfast in Washington Jefferson Park. And before that, I volunteered at the Emerald Village, Eugene, and I’ve also volunteered at the Opportunity Village.

[00:04:54] I really value my experiences getting to know people who are in need of more adequate shelter. I think they value it also.

[00:05:05] And as a mediator for Lane County before I retired (did that for more than 20 years), I really want to encourage more communication between the people involved there, the neighborhood, the council, the people who are in need of more shelter, the volunteers, and other community members.

[00:05:28] I think there are two important steps if we could come together and communicate. The first is to understand each other more deeply. And the second is to be resourceful in coming up with ideas that have not been considered yet. I know in my decades of experience as a mediator, many times ideas were put forward and successful ideas that really hadn’t been considered before.

[00:05:57] So I believe that solutions can be found and that the breakfast can continue to be, to be served and people continue to be fed. I’d ask you to please open your minds and hearts to finding ways to continue feeding those in need of food and shelter and serving in Washington Jefferson Park

[00:06:19] City of Eugene: We will move on to Suzanne O’Shea.

[00:06:21] Suzanne O’Shea: My name is Suzanne O’Shea and I’m asking that the city council support the actions of the breakfast brigade. They have been trying to serve the homeless and the needy for several years under the Jefferson Washington bridge and using their own resources and their own labor. And I just really don’t see any reason that they should be harassed by the police.

[00:06:48] City of Eugene: Next we will hear from Wayne Martin.

[00:06:51] Wayne Martin: Wayne Martin, I’m here to endorse the testimonies of others who have already brought the benefits to your attention of us serving breakfasts.

[00:07:01] We are averaging on any given day between 60 and 70 patrons, but I’ve done a count on my own. And during the week, we average about 135 differing guests because not everybody comes every day; 135 patrons who are starving. They’re at the bottom of the barrel. There are people who haven’t had a safe place to sleep in years, three, four years. The 20 that I have gotten to know on a regular basis (and I’ve kind of chaplained them in many ways), tend to have had family trauma in their earliest years and have not been able to fully recover from that.

[00:07:47] We’re talking about loss of a parent or leavings of parents, and they pool their Social Security income. And about four or so of 15 have that income, and they just simply share it together to get themselves through the day. They definitely appreciate the bag lunches that they get. Many of them cannot go to a crowded space indoors, such as the dining hall.

[00:08:16] I think I want to wrap up my words by referring you to a psychiatrist who’s become very internationally very well known. His name is Dr. Gabor Mate. You may have seen the name. I recommend that you go to his page. He recognizes that most homeless people have suffered childhood trauma. He recognizes that many addicts suffered childhood trauma, and we have those. We actually have addicts who need attention, they need some guidance, they need some friendship, and they need respect.

[00:08:55] City of Eugene: Next, we will hear from Sandi Mann.

[00:08:57] Sandi Mann: My name is Sandi Mann. I want to speak to the possible elimination of the Burrito Brigade breakfast program…

[00:09:04] No one here that I know of asked to be born, including myself. So therefore, I conclude that everyone deserves the right to eat healthy, balanced, and nutritious food. Otherwise, what would you do? Relegate people to garbage cans and refuse? Do you want to be known as the city that does that and arrest people for serving breakfast to people that can’t afford to buy food?

[00:09:32] I urge you all to do the right thing. So just do it!

[00:09:35] City of Eugene: Next, we will hear from Gabriel Scott.

[00:09:37] Gabriel Scott: Gabriel Scott. I’m here to testify about why I volunteer on Wednesday mornings at the Breakfast Brigade, why I do that in real simple terms, and what I see there.

[00:09:47] What led me there was like, many people, a church: St. Mary’s Catholic Church downtown. My priest led me to Wayne, one group led me to another to an opportunity to just do works of mercy, just real simple, feed the hungry, which I’ve found to be quite difficult to find those opportunities. It’s one of those things that oughtn’t to be so hard to just try to do something good, but it really is. And this is an opportunity to do that.

[00:10:16] I brought the Pope’s Fratelli Tutti, hoping to find the perfect quote to share with you, but I’ll spare you that. I do recommend the book. It is addressed to everyone, a model of politics that really embraces love and community. I think that Eugene, you certainly have that capacity on this group. So I know that a solution can be had with the Breakfast Brigade here.

[00:10:38] This is real simple. What I see there is it’s as simple as it could possibly be. It’s just good people sharing food. It seems to develop like a family picnic would have. Everything is carefully done. Food is always very high quality, everything is meticulously clean, everyone wears gloves, it is peaceful, everyone, we can’t escape everyone, but very nearly, more so I would say (I was an attorney) more so than you would find in a courtroom, everyone is well behaved, disciplined, and we all deal with the hand we’re dealt.

[00:11:15] You know, we all wake up in the morning dealt some hand and we’ve got to go through a day And I suggest that there are people in this community that are waking up with days a lot harder Than others of us right? And what I see under the bridge are people with a tremendous ability and discipline doing a good job of being better.

[00:11:37] City of Eugene: Next we will hear from Joanie Flaherty.

[00:11:40] Joanie Flaherty: Thank you so much for allowing me to speak to you. Like Gabe. I’m a volunteer. I work on Tuesdays at making sandwiches and I am not the only one. I work with between 8 and 15 people at First Congregational Church, and my counterpart, Rich Green, works at Garden Way Church, and we make approximately 300 sandwiches a week, which means that thus far this year we’ve made over 8,000 sandwiches, and our purpose is to feed the hungry, those most vulnerable in our community. Most of these are the unhoused, those living on the streets. And I sometimes wonder why our inability to be permitted by Recreation and Open Spaces is not more questioned by the council.

[00:12:41] Because we cost the city nothing. We volunteer, do this on our own time. We ask for nothing from you except a permit. and I originally wrote in my little note of scribble here says, “and not to be harassed by the Eugene Police Department or the NSO.” But I do ask for one thing: I would like us to be permitted, except that Open Spaces has told us they’re not giving out permits, but the police will ticket us and arrest us if we don’t have a permit.

[00:13:22] So we’re in this kind of hellscape of being damned if you do and damned if you do, and we’re going to get arrested and we’ll go to jail and you’ll see a bunch of septuagenarians and octogenarians in jail because that’s what we were asked to do to feed the hungry, to take care of those most vulnerable.

[00:13:47] John Q: Volunteers in their 70s and 80s prepare to go to jail, as the council hears public comment about the Breakfast Brigade.

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