February 29, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Relentless persecution of homeless needs to stop

4 min read
We need cheap, simple shelter. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis says no. Thankfully, the Civil Liberties Defense Center is suing the city over its destructive homeless policy.

by Lynn Porter

The city of Eugene’s keep-them-moving homeless policy is a form of relentless persecution and needs to stop.

Mayor Lucy Vinis, in a recent email, says the city does not have the money to create more homeless shelter. It may not be able to keep all the shelters it has going. Many were built with one-time federal funds, and the city is facing a serious budget shortfall.

We need cheap, simple shelter. The only solution I see is for the city to designate legal spaces where the homeless can camp, provide tents, port-a-potties and trash service, and let them self-shelter.

Vinis says no. She wrote, “We also know that leaving encampments in place for extended periods of time results in other public health issues because of the waste that accumulates and all that comes along with that.”

Homeless people left out in the cold and rain is certainly a “public health issue.” She’s actually prioritizing public neatness, a fetish of middle-class homeowners.

She’s also assuming that it’s somehow easier to control the mess created by scattered, constantly-forced-to-move camps than stationary supported ones.

Thankfully, the Civil Liberties Defense Center is suing the city over its destructive homeless policy. The other option we have is to elect a different mayor and city council. When people run for office, make them tell you specifically what they plan to do if elected, or refuse to vote for them.

Homelessness is a housing issue

At the Eugene Chamber of Commerce Community Solutions Summit:

Mike Coughlin:  Affordable housing providers—they deal with the same zoning, regulatory, and neighborhood associations that normal developers deal with. And then they also have a lot of additional state and federal regulations, and so, all that adds up to affordable housing costing about 20 percent more than it does for normal housing, just because of regulatory issues and all the hoops that they have to jump through. Same apartment building, exact same apartment building, 20 percent more expensive. So that’s a lot of money…..

Dan Bryant:  And what I have learned, over these last 20+ years (almost 30 now, over 30), is that there are three essential components to solving this problem. They are in this order: housing, housing, and housing.

It really is. If I could wave a magic wand and eliminate all the addiction issues and the mental health problems and all of that, it would have a very minimal impact on the number of people that are unhoused. And this is the real paradox that it’s taken me a long time to understand, that it’s not about the individuals and fixing the individuals. It’s about the systemic problem.

It really is a case of musical chairs, right? You can help that slow individual get faster to beat out somebody else, but at the end of the day, you still don’t have enough chairs. That’s really the issue. And so that’s why we have to focus on the housing problems.

Parking and affordable housing

In accordance with recent state law, Eugene will no longer require parking with new construction, leaving that choice up to developers. This will make it cheaper to build affordable housing, which would make lower rents possible. Poor people would be better off financially without cars, especially if they have access to mass transit.

Transportation is a housing issue. Mass transit like EmX can make it a lot easier to live without a car. Instead of large parking lots we can use valuable land for more housing. That also reduces city heat islands. Less driving means less traffic congestion, accidents and pollution. In recent years more people have been dying from car accidents, due to urban sprawl leading to more driving.

People will use mass transit if we make it frequent and easy to use, like EmX, which should be expanded. But, as we saw with the recall of Eugene City Councilor Claire Syrett, it’s a political issue with people who are glued to their cars and just want to get somewhere as quickly as possible.

At the end of the day it’s all politics, which is mostly about power and self-interest. Working-class self-interests are different from those of middle-class homeowners and business people. We need to organize to defend our interests. Right now the best local working-class political organization I know of is the Eugene Tenant Alliance. I recommend getting on their email list and supporting them.


Lynn Porter is actively working to create more survival shelter sites to serve the 4,657 persons reported as unhoused in Lane County during October 2023.

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