June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

KEPW Reporters Roundtable: Before and after the ice storm

12 min read
The reporters attend the Severe Weather Collaborative, and discuss an open letter to Mayor Vinis that says multiple city and parks vehicles were 'sweeping' the homeless right before the ice storm.

John Q: The KEPW Reporters Roundtable discusses the multi-day ice storm. But first, here’s how they prepared. With the storm approaching Jan. 11, they attended a meeting with Lane County’s Maria Cortez.

Maria Cortez (Lane County Severe Weather Collaborative, Jan. 11): I do just like to always review the purpose and goals of the Severe Weather Collaborative before we start our meetings. Overall, this group is really intended to provide a foundation for collaboration around severe weather that affects people who are unhoused and really identifying gaps that we all as a community might be able to fill together.

So, really, just an outlet to collaborate and learn from each other, what resources are available, what resources may not be available that we would like to see, and how can those things come into existence.

[00:01:00] Richard Self (KEPW Newsday, at the Severe Weather Collaborative Jan. 11): The severe weather is coming in Saturday night. The snow level will be dropping off severely from 2,400 feet to about 1,000 feet, from what I understand. I’m with KEPW News. I do the weather, I know. And so I’m hoping that there could be something because you’re going to have a lot of, you talk about rough, you’re going to have people who are going to be iced over Friday night going into Saturday morning.

[00:01:35] Sarah Koski (LTD community resource liaison, at the Severe Weather Collaborative Jan. 11): As of tomorrow at 10 a.m., every LTD bus operator will be getting a fact sheet, an Egan Warming Q&A fact sheet, where we sourced information that was directly from Customer Service and our public safety officers and our drivers on: Can dogs come? How much is too much stuff to bring? Someone severely inebriated, can they still be welcome?

[00:01:58] And so I am hand-putting that into 175 mailboxes as well as an entire internal staff email going out tomorrow, number one, to get people more excited about what’s going on with Egan, but also to dispel some myths and to get more information out there. And then, as we’ve been speaking, I’ve been on email chains with our marketing team and LTD—I can’t guarantee for this activation, but is now going to have A-frame signs at our customer service spots in Eugene and Springfield to say that Egan (Warming Center) is in fact open because we are definitely (like First Christian Church with the transportation), that first point of contact. So more progress being made.

[00:02:41] Maria Cortez (Lane County Severe Weather Collaborative, Jan. 11): Richard, it looks like you’re asking (in chat) if there’s storage at Egan.

[00:02:49] Tim Black (Egan Warming Centers, Jan. 11): Absolutely. We have bag check and our guests are welcome, no matter how many carts, bikes, whatever they have, they leave them with our volunteers, so they only have themselves to go inside to their sleeping pad. That’s so they don’t have to worry about anything being stolen.

[00:03:06] They don’t have to keep an eye on it. We never look inside of any of their things. They always have access to it whenever they want. They can come and get it and get something out and give it back to us. They can leave whenever they want. But we do ask that everything goes in the morning, because we just can’t be responsible for it during the day.

[00:03:25] And we know that that’s a real challenge for a lot of folks. Living on the street, when you just have everything that’s important to you with you, and it just makes it hard, I know, to go to job interviews or anything else, but that’s the answer.

[00:03:42] Richard Self (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable, Jan. 11): I’d rather it be 10 feet of snow than an ice storm. I do not like the ice storms at all. Power outages are very possible with this and with the ice hanging on the lines and weighing them way down. Yeah, there’s a serious issue with a lot of things that could happen with this ice storm.

[00:04:03] It’s a horrible thing. Last time we had it, it looked like Godzilla stepped on everything and it’s a terrible thing. They were hoping that this (storm front) would move upwards and north so that this wouldn’t affect us, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And this could be a half to an inch of ice in the area here, so no, no good. No good at all.

[00:04:27] We have to step up and do some PSAs (public service announcements) real quick to get the word out, because I said we would.

[00:04:34] I hate to see that the libraries are still leaned upon as emergency warming shelters when the libraries really can’t do it, and regular patrons to the library, not that the unhoused aren’t regular patrons to the library, but if you have all of that, that regular patrons to the library are less inclined to use the library.

[00:05:00] And that just is the case. And I somewhat understand that. I understood that while I was homeless. If you’re just there and taking up space at the library because you’re freezing, that’s an adequate reason to be there, absolutely. But folks who patronize the library don’t like that as much.

[00:05:21] And so I’ve been saying this for a while: The library shouldn’t be leaned upon to do this kind of work when they’re not in that position to do so, unless they can come up with more spacing to do just this, which is an excellent idea. But when it comes to the unhoused, there’s not a lot of focus because there’s not so much will to do things that other places are doing.

[00:05:48] Todd Boyle (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable, Jan. 11): Walking around the South Eugene area, you know, Amazon Park area, I saw very few homeless people in the last two or three days. The weather has been cold and especially the rain. There may have been sweeps. I did see some evidence of some people’s belongings left behind where the individuals weren’t present. That’s usually a sign of a possible, you know, disruptive sweep.

[00:06:13] Richard Self (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable, Jan. 11): And that’s the sad part of it is, you know, people (say), ‘Oh, bring the snow. I want snow.’ Well, I don’t want snow because I personally don’t like snow. And second of all, I really don’t like it for the people that are out there. Bad enough trying to weather the elements as they are. So, that’s always something to be prepared.

[00:06:34] And as you saw from the Severe Weather Collaborative meeting, there’s not a lot of options for a lot of people. I’m not sure what children and families will be able to do during this time, unless they can get a voucher for a hotel, and that sounds like an experience.

[00:06:52] John Q: The ice storm arrived and knocked several radio stations off the air.

[00:07:01] Richard Self (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable, Jan. 18): Somehow (Station Manager) Jana (Thrift) saved the station once the ice melted off the antenna from her house. She was able to save the transmitter at the station remotely. And if she couldn’t have done that, she wouldn’t have made it here for another week.

[00:07:17] Highway 126 is a complete mess. So yeah, I didn’t know that she was going to be able to do that, so that’s pretty cool. We’re on the air on both ends now (FM and internet), so that’s cool.

[00:07:31] I said in my program, it would take more than a week to repair all this damage. I think this is going to be the costliest storm ever, as far as an ice storm here in Eugene, Springfield, I think we’ve got damage in the millions.

[00:07:45] Sarah, I know that you got stuck without power for a moment there.

[00:07:51] Sarah Koski (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable, Jan. 18): Yes, definitely. But the thing about us and understanding privilege, right, is we have working cell phones. We have the ability to reach people who have cars. I mean, yeah, I was out rural, but I also had friends with very nice vehicles to take me to a very luxurious home with a working fireplace.

[00:08:10] And even with my work with the Oregon Digital Safety Net, right? Digital inclusion and how important it is—How are people getting messages spread like we saw with the shelters? The majority of the posting I did was on Facebook. Well, because the street is connected to Wi-Fi as much as they could with open Wi-Fi sources and we’re sharing information through Facebook.

[00:08:31] This ice storm was devastating, but it’s a good wake-up call for a Cascadia (Subduction Zone earthquake event) or something like that, really evaluating what capacities we have and what we take for granted.

[00:08:43] John Q: Her title with LTD is ‘Community Resource Liaison.’

[00:08:48] Sarah Koski (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable Jan. 18): So I’m the internal liaison for all staff when it comes to underrepresented voices and those experiencing poverty and marginalized groups, and then I’m also a resource to nonprofits.

[00:09:02] So, anybody on the front lines who are working on the services who has an idea or something where they wish they could partner with LTD as that stopgap or that bridge, to bring new fresh ideas from the streets to upper management. So it is an absolute dream come true. It is, I am 11 weeks in and just absolutely enthralled.

[00:09:25] John Q: The news team discussed an open letter to the mayor from the Breakfast Brigade. Lisa Levsen saw city staff forcing the homeless to move just before the ice storm and taking their possessions.

[00:09:38] Dan Pulju (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable Jan. 18): What is the rationale that the city uses for not returning or keeping? I guess they are disposing of the critical, particularly the seasonal things, like you can’t lose your bedroll. And if you need protection from the rain, those kind of things that are essential.

[00:09:56] Richard Self (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable Jan. 18): They’re supposed to take it and keep it for at least 30 days, and you’re supposed to be able to claim it. That has never been the case that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen anybody get their things back. The only people that I’ve ever seen be successful at least keeping track of that was a group, I believe, they were in Grants Pass, but I’m not sure.

[00:10:20] But they were not in Eugene, but they decided to put Apple AirTags on their belongings once they were swept to see exactly what happens. They were given the song and dance that their belongings would be kept for 30 days and that they could come claim them. And they followed the Apple AirTags of their things being taken directly to the dump, to the dump only, to be thrown away.

[00:10:48] So that seems to be the protocol, no matter what they say, and what the song and dance is, and that’s, that’s a huge problem, because they shouldn’t be taking everybody’s things anyhow, there’s laws against that.

[00:11:05] The city of Eugene violates a lot of rulings made by the U.S. District Court for this area. And one of them was a case out of Los Angeles. You just can’t confiscate and take all everybody’s things. That’s never been enforced, and the thing I don’t like about these things are that they only come about being enforced through a lawsuit.

[00:11:30] There is a homeless lawsuit against the city of Eugene already on these grounds, but that’s going to take a while for that litigation to take place, of course. And when they set these rules up, there’s no ‘If you do this, then this will happen to you. If you’re the police and you take people’s stuff, this will happen to you.’ There’s no consequences for any of this.

[00:11:55] And this is why I want more accountability is because you have the chief of our police department, Chris Skinner, who will tell you that he will not move somebody without them having a place to go. ‘I will not!’ Well, none of his officers, especially the ones that patrol in the wee hours of the morning, ever got that memo, apparently. There are people being swept at 1, 2, 3 in the morning and being told that they not only have about 10 to 15 minutes to get their stuff together to go, or it will be confiscated.

[00:12:33] But not only that, but they’re told where to go, which is ‘the F out of town.’ I thought that was gone after I became housed six years ago. That’s not gone. And it’s still there. And that’s their sentiment towards the unhoused: ‘Get out.’

[00:12:55] Sarah Koski (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable Jan. 18): Well, there’s a scripture in the Bible everybody knows, you know: ‘Love God.’ That’s how I ended up learning about the street. And that’s where I fell in love. And honestly, I think the street is my mission field and my calling, not to go and hit everybody over the head with the Bible, but just infuse as much love as I can into a really hurting population, right?

[00:13:17] And there’s a scripture in the Bible that says: ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways.’ And it always reminds me of the city of Eugene and the double-mindedness that we see in this town of—yes, Richard, I think you are absolutely correct.

[00:13:35] We are labeled as ‘the sanctuary city’ and we are labeled as ‘the safe place of refuge’ and this warm, beautiful utopia for collaboration and communal living and ideas and the structures that came forth from, you know, all of the eco co-ops, and all of these ideas where we can live as one with the earth and through supporting of nature and supporting ourselves, right?

[00:14:03] And we have this personality complex, it’s like a multi-personality syndrome, where we, as a city, don’t know who we are. One moment we want to be this hub of innovation, but we can’t keep folks who are innovative because there’s that old guard not wanting to let any new ideas in, that undercurrent of racism where you could be the most gifted individual and because of the color of your skin not included or let into the right rooms or the right meetings.

[00:14:37] I mean, I cannot begin to tell you the amount of gifted individuals who have got out of Dodge as quickly as they could after graduating from the University of Oregon or doing different things because this city is not conducive to the heartbeat that it claims it has.

[00:14:56] Richard Self (at KEPW Reporters Roundtable Jan. 18): This is what we face, as advocates. So for six years, I’ve been working on things and there’s, you know, slow progress. There’s the safe sleep sites. Now, how long they last—who knows?

[00:15:07] There is now some kind of respite sick shelter going on, that’s taking a long time. But to hear somebody put out of the hospital in a wheelchair after toe amputation tells me we’re not getting very far.

[00:15:22] The ‘All In’ program, they have managed to somehow in one way or another help about 274 people of about 4,000 homeless—and that’s being conservative about it. Somebody went to a city council member that wasn’t being conservative about it and put an estimate of about 10,000 people we have in this town that are homeless.

[00:15:46] And so, this is quite the uphill battle. I don’t shy away from it. I’ll continue to do it. But a lot of this is the same thing every year.

[00:15:58] And on the agenda for the Lived Experience Advisory Group of Unhoused Engagement for Eugene, or LEAGUE, we’re coming up with the same work plan pretty much as we’ve come up with for the past few years.

[00:16:15] And it’s the same thing: Open bathrooms. Make sure that the police are doing what they say and following the rules and so forth and so on.

[00:16:23] There was a 50-page report (and there still is) on Emily Semple’s desk, the city councilor, that is all about the criminalization of the homeless, what it costs, what problems are with it, how it’s not working, and that it should be revamped, the whole idea, because it’s not working and it’s costing too much money, and it causes people trauma and pain that can last a lifetime afterwards.

[00:16:55] Eric Jackson, who just passed, had so many citations and tickets, he would never have gotten out of it had he not died. He would have never gotten out of it. He would have never been able to find housing because of all of that over his head. How many people are out there just like that? It’s an uphill battle.

[00:17:14] John Q: The KEPW Reporters Roundtable reflects on the city’s treatment of its unhoused residents, before, during, and after the devastating ice storms of January 2024.

Listen to KEPW Newsday with Richard Self Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 6 a.m., and Tuesday through Friday at 12:30 p.m.

Listen to Body Count with Dan Pulju on Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Listen to Legalize Survival with Jana Thrift, Julie Lambert, and Richard Self Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

For more, see the KEPW program schedule.

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