EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) – With plans for a city-sanctioned homeless camp still far from finished, Eugene City Council has now given the City Manager's office the go-ahead to spend more than $200,000 to address homelessness this cold season.
Councilors voted unanimously on Wednesday, November 21 to spend up to $225,000 on six different strategies to help the homeless in the coming weeks.
Right now, it’s unclear where the money will come from in the city’s budget. The money will not take away from existing services. However, the money will have to be paid out of the upcoming budget. There’s no guarantee that all of the money will be spent either, but the city has the authorization to spend it all, if necessary.
The first strategy will expand St. Vincent de Paul’s current car camping program which allows people in mobile homes and trailers to park and live legally in select approved city parks and other properties.
Second, the city will contribute money towards rapid re-housing or rent and security deposit assistance to get homeless people in apartments. That program is also run through local social service agencies.
Third, the city will pay for a select amount of storage or secure lockers for people to store their belongings.
Fourth, the city will contribute toward expanding the Eugene-based Station 7 youth shelter. The shelter is run by a program called Looking Glass. Station 7 houses homeless juveniles or teens who’ve been kicked out of their homes.
Fifth, the city will contribute toward the salary of a social services coordinator who will work with the various service agencies in Eugene and grant referrals to clients.
Finally, the city will also contribute to ShelterCare’s recent push toward expanding transitional housing for homeless parents with children.
Homeless activists say while they support the move, they would still like to see more happening in finding a camp for the homeless to stay immediately.
“The Opportunity Eugene task force came out with recommendations in the spring. Why has it taken the city so long to establish that safe place to be? We think the city needs to ramp up their process so we can do something this winter,” says Micahel Carrigan, a local homeless activist and member of the Opportunity Village Eugene board.
Meanwhile, the city says it is trying to move quickly. Many agencies have informed the city that there is a growing homeless population in Eugene this winter.
"It's not that anyone is intentionally dragging their feet. It's that there are a a lot of questions that are being raised about this issue,” says Michael Wisth, Grants Manager for the City of Eugene. Wisth has been working on the homeless issue in Eugene since the Opportunity Eugene panel began in early 2012. The panel began following the closure of Occupy Eugene’s encampment in December 2011.
Also part of the authorized $225,000 expenditure, the city will pay for a portable bathroom that the Occupy Eugene mobile Medical Clinic will use each Sunday of the week. For three months, the portable bathroom is expected to cost a little more than $1,000. The money will also possibly go toward expanding the Egan Warming Centers which open when temperatures hit freezing.
City officials believe the car camping program expansion, rental assistance and Station 7 youth shelter expansion will be ready to go in the next few weeks. The rest of the goals may take a few more weeks.
As for the homeless camp called Opportunity Village Eugene, there’s still no site or approved plan. Five sites are under review including three in the Harlow Neighborhood near Autzen Stadium, one near the Eugene Public Works yard and a one near the Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Eugene. The Eugene 4J School Board has requested that the city take the Cesar Chavez Elementary school site off the table. The city has yet to respond to that request.
The city also addressed an idea many people have mentioned about using the currently vacant Eugene City Hall building on 7th and Pearl as a possible homeless shelter. Currently, the building is fenced off and closed to everyone. The city says the building is not heated and does not have access to an old steam system that provides heat. Indoor lights have also been turned off. Staff with the City Manager's office say it is unlikely that it would make a good shelter because of those factors. Also, the building was vacated in the first place due to seismic strength issues.