Councilor Alan Zelenka: Whenever I see the Human Rights Commission work plan, I’m always amazed by how much you guys have on it. It’s almost 10 pages long, and lots of ideas. And as (Councilor) Lyndsie (Leech) said, there’s so much to do in this area with all the racism and hate that’s going on in the world.
But I always come back to, I’m wondering if you guys aren’t spreading yourself too thin and (if) having a little bit more focus on things might not be a good idea. And I’m curious what you think your top three things that you would think that the commission should be working on.
[00:00:50] Scott Lemons (Human Rights Commission chair): Granted, I’m one of nine (soon to be 11) people, but I’m going to answer this out of what is most of our work content, because I see that as an objective measure.
[00:00:59] So certainly the Homeless and Poverty Work Group has been the rock star subgroup or working group within this fiscal year plan, making a recommendation to include unhoused status as a protected status, not just within hate crimes, but also within other city codes. I think that’s going to be top of our agenda.
[00:01:16] And I, you all might not be too happy to hear this, but we are very concerned about that two-hour camping ban and the fact that Parks & Rec are basically using the Americans With Disabilities Act against people with disabilities to get their camps cleared. So we will be hopefully forwarding a motion or at least a recommendation to city council to—and we see the outcome as the same. We just really see how to go about it differently. So, I would say that’s going to be on the top of the priority list as well.
[00:01:46] John Q: That is Scott Lemons, chair of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. Earlier, he shared details of the report and other goals for the year.
[00:01:54] Scott Lemons: We have four active working groups: the Advocacy / Leadership Work Group; Whole Eugene Community United; the Homelessness and Poverty Work Group; as well as the Economic Opportunities Work Group. So I’m just going to spend a little time catching up on where we’re at with those.
[00:02:08] For the Whole Eugene Community United, that’s WeCU, can be summarized as: developing and maintaining strategic partnerships that align with the Human Rights Commission’s initiatives; resuming the work of advocating for the creation of a multicultural center; doing research on successful initiatives and programs from other cities; and keeping track of efforts within the city of Eugene to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
[00:02:30] Next up, this is probably our most active work group at the moment: It’s the Homelessness and Poverty Work Group. Their work plan items are centered around reducing hardships endured by those experiencing homelessness.
[00:02:40] Some focal points are continuing to advocate to recognize unhoused people as a protected group and give them protected status in relevant frameworks; identifying and eliminating barriers to housing affordability to reduce the number of individuals who fall into homelessness or even become home-insecure;
[00:02:59] And engaging the unhoused community and groups to encourage reporting of bias activities that targets them as well as finding means to provide them a space to share their stories and reality.
[00:03:09] Next up, we have our Economic Opportunities Work Group. Its main focus is on policies and supports that impact or improve outcomes for short- and long-term economic success for various marginalized communities. The goal could be summarized as removing barriers and creating opportunities so these communities can create generational wealth and find financial stability.
[00:03:31] Some ways they look to do this is by identifying needs for said communities to support long-term economic success, evaluating current economic development initiatives from a racial justice lens, as well as aiding in minority-owned and underserved businesses receiving public contracting opportunities.
[00:03:48] And last but not least, we have our Advocacy Work Group. The work group is made up of chairs from all the other work groups that I just mentioned, as well as the chair of the Human Rights Commission. They are actively looking into how they can best foster relationships with City Council to help align and support the various work that we’re doing to align with the various work that you’re doing.
[00:04:09] We are working on increasing opportunities for community engagement, such as participating in neighborhood association events. We are also looking to see how we can develop a network of human rights commissioners and professionals to further the work. The thing that I’m most excited about at the moment is we, as a Human Rights Commission, we’ve connected with Salem’s Human Rights Commission and our ultimate goal that I hope I can present to you all next year is that we’re going to have seven different cities represented from the Human Rights Commission, so we can all get together and kind of create best practices within the state of Oregon.
[00:04:44] Councilor Lyndsie Leech: I’ve only been on the commission for a couple of months now, but it’s really clear that the dedication and passion that all of the commissioners bring to this work is really inspiring to me. You know, we get to do a lot of very fun work, like supporting and sponsoring community events that are celebrating our diverse community, but we also have to deal with the fact that we still are living with really a lot of hate and bias.
[00:05:11] We have a hate and bias crime report today as part of our packet. And so it’s heavy work and it’s important work. So I really just want to show my appreciation today for that.
[00:05:25] Scott (Lemons), I know how much you put into this. And so it’s, this is deeply felt by our community. Drae (Charles) also, what an amazing staff liaison that we have to do this work, so just showing my appreciation today. Thank you for the updates. I’m so excited to get to continue to work with you for at least another year. Thank you. I look forward to it and thank you.
[00:05:48] John Q: HRC Staff Liaison Drae Charles was also invited to respond to Councilor Zelenka’s question about the top priorities.
[00:05:55] Drae Charles (City of Eugene): First, from a process standpoint, the commission’s going to decide where they’re going to go and staff just provides that feedback. But looking at their work plan and where they make the most impact, from a staff perspective:
[00:06:07] One: Addressing homelessness. So, we aren’t going to solve the homelessness crisis overnight. That’s just a reality. But Human Rights Commission really reviewing and seeing how they can minimize or reduce the impact of homelessness on those who are experiencing it would be really beneficial. It is a hardship that I wish on no one. And it carries a lifelong burden. So finding ways to minimize that burden is front and center.
[00:06:37] As you mentioned, we’re seeing hate, bias, discrimination in waves and rises currently, so addressing how we can minimize that impact as well as increasing the amount of support for victims is a huge gap that I would like to see addressed, particularly around mental health supports for victims who experience hate, bias, and discrimination, as there’s really just, there has not been enough of those supports out in the community.
So when victims do have this experience, it’s often, we’re referring them to the same places, and they’re beyond capacity, so creating some more community capacity to support those victims.
[00:07:15] And then the third one on that list, which they’re already actively engaging in, is seeing where they can network and foster collaboration statewide, as again, a lot of these are statewide issues, they’re not unique to just Eugene. And so having those conversations to see if we can use some of what’s already been done and add it to a local context instead of reinventing the wheel, because there’s a lot of benefit in that you can prevent quite a bit of legwork and labor if what’s already been tried and true can be adapted and used here.
[00:07:50] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: Does the HRC work with the Bethel and 4J much? I remember that Drae was saying that staff don’t so much, but I’m wondering if the commission does.
[00:08:01] Scott Lemons: Sadly, no. And that’s something that’s been really frustrating. School districts kind of have their own jurisdictions, their own reporting systems. I would really like to find a way to partner with the school boards in any way, shape, or form to get in there, doing some education, doing the tracking of hate and biases. And being able to see trends is really important.
[00:08:20] Drae Charles (City of Eugene): When bias crimes occur in schools, those do get reported to EPD. Schools are mandated by law to report those things. It’s bias incidents that go uncaptured in those systems—
[00:08:31] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: Right, things that fall below a crime. Right. Which I would assume would be the majority of things that are happening.
[00:08:39] Councilor Matt Keating: What’s the Human Rights Commission’s relationship, if any, with the Poverty and Homelessness Board?
[00:08:44] John Q: Drae said members of LEAGUE—the Lived Experience Advisory Group for Unhoused Engagement—also serve on an HRC work group.
[00:08:52] Drae Charles (City of Eugene): Members of the LEAGUE actually do sit on the Homelessness and Poverty Work Group at HRC. So they provide that conduit, both ways. So when the HRC has items—for example, they’re looking to do listening sessions with the unhoused community—they drafted those questions and those processes and gave that to LEAGUE for review. And they’re getting that feedback, so they’re doing things in a culturally sensitive way.
[00:09:18] But members of LEAGUE also look to the Homeless and Poverty Work Group and the HRC for that feedback as well, to see how they can best advocate and or have these conversations with city council, so we can move the needle.
[00:09:32] Councilor Matt Keating: The spike in hate and bias: Where do we go from here? What can we do as a municipal body to support your work?
[00:09:43] Scott Lemons: Especially with what happened at the Human Rights Commission last month, I would say the best thing that we can do as a Human Rights Commission is to move forward our work and continue doing our work in the face of hate, always ensuring that citizens know where to report hate and bias crimes, and therefore we can have a map that shows where things are popping off and how to allocate resources and then I would imagine that would come from a recommendation from the Human Rights Commission to you all, showing you the data that’s involved. But that’s just my two cents.
[00:10:15] Drae Charles (City of Eugene): Chair Lemons answered that question fantastically well… It really is a matter of moving the needle when and where we can, and providing those supports and/or community, letting them know that they don’t have to experience this in isolation. I think that’s one of the most difficult things that I’ve seen, both in my work and in my personal life.
[00:10:36] It’s very easy to fall into that trap of, when you’re experiencing hate or bias, to just write it off as this is another day, this is another just experience, just add it to the checklist. Even as staff, when I had those experiences, it’s like—I was walking downtown and had someone make some rude and inappropriate comments, and I kind of just compartmentalized it and kind of left it alone. I was like, ‘I need to report this,’ but members of the community and the public may not have that same knowledge and know-how or really see what’s the point.
[00:11:11] I’ll commend the Oregon DOJ on doing their community campaign they’re doing currently to really provide everyone that extra layer of, ‘This is the avenues of support when you experience this.’ So the community can then see that this is why you report these things: It’s not just blank numbers going into a spreadsheet, but there are actual victim supports that exist, such as a Victim Compensation Fund. So, individuals who have these experiences can then, you know, get mental health resources if they don’t have health insurance.
[00:11:44] It can help individuals relocate if there’s a need for that. It can help individuals put up security cameras. Things like that, that can help inspire individuals to report if things do pop up, instead of, like, ‘This is just another day in the life and I don’t want to add this to my to-do list.’
[00:12:04] In terms of preventative measures, one thing that we’re actively engaging in is having community conversations around education, because we can educate the community in both how to report and what these things look like in the community in terms of hate and bias. We can hopefully look to curb some of that. But again, like, racism and these things are huge topics and they’re not going to go away overnight. So we’ve just got to keep at it.
[00:12:30] John Q: On Nov. 13, the Human Rights Commission reports to the City Council, and calls out city parks employees for ‘using the Americans with Disabilities Act against people with disabilities, to get their camps cleared.’