City of Eugene moves to close Whoville camp

City of Eugene moves to close Whoville camp »Play Video
Protesters held up signs as police arrived to close the Whoville camp

EUGENE, Ore. - Police moved to shutdown the camp known as Whoville at the intersection of Broadway and Hilyard on Friday morning.

Two or three dozen police officers were on scene Friday morning around 9 a.m.

Police arrested 3 people on charges of interfering with police: Charles A Smith, 63; Ambrose Stormrider Hotham-Keathley, 22; and Ryan Kyle Stearns, 32.

The rest of the campers left the site peacefully and voluntarily, the City said.

But the campers were disappointed by the move, saying they thought they had until April 15 to clear out.

"Everyone's confused trying to pack everything up and if they don't show progress they've been told they'll be arrested," said Anthony "Red" Showers, one of the leaders and spokespeople for Whoville.

The City Council directed City staff to shut down the camp by April 15.

The City of Eugene issued multiple press releases on the issue Friday, including one from the City Manager, another from police and a third from the City of Eugene.

The group Eugene SLEEPS countered with a statement claiming the City was going back on promises made in February.

Campers have been on the site since September of last year, demanding safe and legal places to sleep.

The protest gave rise to Eugene's "rest stop" program for homeless campers, which allows small numbers of people to camp on designated pieces of City property.

Camping on public property is otherwise illegal in Eugene, except under such exceptions.

The City-owned property at Hilyard and Broadway is not one of the rest stop locations and has been closed to public use.

The City Council directed that the site be closed no later than April 15 and that clearing and clean-up of the area begin no earlier than April 1.

Statement by Jon Ruiz, Eugene City Manager
 
Homelessness is a complicated and ongoing problem not only for Eugene but for many communities across the country. The City of Eugene has a long-standing demonstrated commitment to helping to address homelessness needs. We have increased that commitment over the last year by opening two rest stops and Opportunity Village, creating a total of more than 60 legal camping spaces in Eugene.  The City has agreed to a third rest stop location that would add 15 more sites and we hope to finalize an agreement with the site operators  as soon as today.
 
Last week, the City re-posted notices that the property is not open for public use of any kind and that clearing and clean-up of the area would begin after April 1, 2014. The City Council has directed the site be closed no later than April 15.
 
Today, we are clearing that site. This has been a long and ongoing process that began last September when the site was first occupied illegally. Since that time, multiple notices and warnings have been given to campers. The City's goal all along has been and still is for people to leave the site voluntarily and to get connected with the services they need to find safe and legal shelter.
 
Throughout the process, a number of services have been provided. Those include a police liaison who has met with camp representatives on a regular basis, and CAHOOTS and other social services that have been checking in frequently at the site in coordination with City staff.  We have encouraged campers there to utilize other options available to them such as the Eugene Mission and have actively worked to connect them to services.
 
Even as we close this illegal camp, we will continue to be as compassionate and helpful as possible, including transporting and providing temporary secure storage for property and continuing to help people find services.
 
The Eugene Mission and the expanded car camping program managed by St. Vincent DePaul are also available to campers in addition to other social service venues on a case-by-case basis. The Eugene Mission currently has a number of spaces open for men and for women.
 
The City has tried to compassionately consider the needs of vulnerable community members while also balancing the health and safety needs of the entire community. We have developed a number of programs and innovations and are actively pursuing others. It is important that we come together as a community and work for more comprehensive long term solutions. The City will continue to work diligently with our local, state and national partners to find resources and develop options for dealing with the complex issues related to homelessness.  
 
 
Press release from Eugene Police Department
 
Travelers are asked to avoid the Broadway/Hilyard area for the next several hours as the City helps a group of people who have been trespassing since September 2013 to vacate the premises and remove their belongings.  In the interest of increased safety of the public and City workers, traffic flow is restricted at several nearby intersections including:

•        All westbound traffic on from Franklin Blvd/Broadway Avenue to Hilyard Street is restricted to one lane only due to the temporary road closure. Travelers are recommended to divert westbound onto 11th Avenue at the intersection of Franklin Blvd. / 11th Avenue. An electronic reader board is in place near this intersection to provide early warning.

•        Eastbound traffic on Broadway will not be allowed to turn left (northbound) onto Hilyard Street.

•        Northbound traffic between 11th Avenue and Broadway will only be allowed to turn east or west. No through traffic will be allowed due to the temporary road closure.

•        No eastbound traffic will be allowed at 8th Avenue / Hilyard Street

The site at the corner of Hilyard and Broadway is not open for public use. The City Council directed that the site be closed no later than April 15 and that clearing and clean-up of the area begin no earlier than April 1.

The site was first occupied illegally in September 2013. The site was posted as not open to the public and people on the site at that time who refused to leave were warned that they would be subject to prohibited camping citations. After written and verbal warnings, more than 20 citations for Prohibited Camping were issued in September to people refusing to leave the site.

In January 2014, additional written notices and verbal warnings were issued and signs marking the area “No trespassing” were installed. People remaining at the site are and have been subject to criminal trespass charges, a jailable offense.

The City-posted signs at the site were torn down by unidentified individuals. Subsequently, permission was granted by an adjacent business to install metal signage facing the site, and more signs were purchased and installed. Those signs were also torn down.

Also in January, the City provided dumpsters at the site so people there could begin to clean out trash and leave with their belongings. Since that time, staff has checked the dumpsters daily and they have been serviced at least once a week or more as needed. A fence was added at that time to contain expansion and make the site’s closure obvious.

Last week, on March 27, the City re-posted notices that the property is not open to the public and that the clearing and clean-up of the area would begin after April 1.

Since this site was first occupied, a police liaison has continued to meet on a regular basis with the group’s representatives. CAHOOTS and other social services have been checking in frequently with trespassers in coordination with City staff.  Providing access to human services and a peaceful resolution have been the central aim of these planning measures.

Conditions in and around site
An analysis of conditions in and around the camp found that since the camp was first established, quality of life crimes and calls for police service increased in the area.  These calls included complaints about open fires and loud disputes inside the camp, syringes found in the area, injured subjects, robbery, theft, assaults, disputes between campers and passers-by, and damage to neighboring businesses and properties. Calls about traffic hazards and crashes near the site also increased. Area businesses reported a decrease in both patron business and income, and an increase in quality of life crimes or anti-social behavior.

In contrast, the community-managed rest stop sites and Opportunity Village provide legal and safer places for people to be. These legal camping sites are managed by community organizations that provide essential services and oversight. They also have clear rules that help ensure the health and safety of people at the site as well as reduce its impact on its neighbors.

City goals and next steps
The City’s goal has been for people to leave the site voluntarily and to get connected with the services they need to find safe and legal shelter. The City has and continues to coordinate with a number of local social service agencies to help people transition from the camp.  Examples include the opening of two rest stops at 1) Garfield and Roosevelt, and 2) Northwest Expressway and Chambers. These are being managed by Community Supported Shelters.

Volunteer sponsors have stepped forward to manage a third rest stop site proposed near Leo Harris Drive. The City hopes to sign an agreement with the site managers/sponsors in the next couple days.

Including the two open rest stops and Opportunity Village, more than 60 legal camping options have been created over the past year. The third site will add legal camping sites for up to 15 more people.

The Eugene Mission and the expanded car camping program managed by St. Vincent DePaul are also available to campers in addition to other social service venues on a case-by case basis.

While these efforts cannot solve the challenge of homelessness in our community, they are a concerted effort to help vulnerable individuals through hard times, and to provide an alternative to illegal behavior.

The City Council and staff continue to try to balance the needs and views of all parts of our diverse community, to find options for vulnerable people while also addressing health and safety concerns of the entire community.


Press release from the City of Eugene

The City of Eugene will be working with campers today to clear the site at the property located behind the sidewalk on the corner of Hilyard and Broadway.

Volunteer sponsors have stepped forward to manage a third rest stop site proposed near Leo Harris Drive. The City is continuing to work with that group to sign an agreement and have it open as soon as possible.

The City’s goal is for people to leave the site voluntarily and to get connected with the services they need to find safe and legal shelter. The City has been coordinating with a number of local social service agencies to help people transition from the camp. If people refuse to leave the site, they may be arrested for trespassing.

Background Information:
Last week, the City re-posted notices that the property is not open for public use of any kind and that clearing and clean-up of the area would begin no earlier than April 1, 2014. The area has not been open for public use, however, a number of people have been staying on the site since mid-September of last year. The City Council has directed the site be closed no later than April 15.

The Eugene City Council has designated several City-owned sites for permitted overnight camping, including the rest stops at Garfield and Roosevelt and Northwest Expressway and Chambers which are open and being managed by Community Supported Shelters.

Over the last several months, multiple notices and warnings have been given to campers at Broadway and Hilyard and a number of services have been provided. A police liaison has continued to meet on a regular basis with the group’s representatives since this site was first occupied. CAHOOTS and other social services have been checking in frequently with trespassers in coordination with City staff. 

Including the two open rest stops and Opportunity Village, more than 60 legal camping options have been created over the past year.  The Eugene Mission and the expanded car camping program managed by St. Vincent DePaul are also available to campers in addition to other social service venues on a case-by-case basis.

Homelessness is a complicated and ongoing problem not only for our community, but others around the nation. The City of Eugene and Lane County continue to experience high numbers of homelessness and housing insecurity.

The City Council and staff continue to try to balance the needs and views of all parts of our diverse community, to find options for vulnerable people while also addressing health and safety concerns of the entire community.
 

Press release from Eugene SLEEPS

WHOVILLE SHUTDOWN IN EXPLICIT CONTRADICTION TO COUNCIL, CITY MANAGER PROMISES OF FEBRUARY 18 PUBLIC HEARING

At a February 18 Public Hearing, following testimony from numerous activists that they feared the City Manager would "jump the gun" and evict the residents before there were places for them to go, numerous Councilors clarified to the City Manager Jon Ruiz that it was not their intent to shut down Whoville prior to having "someplace for them to go"

and he agreed that he would not shutdown the camp until there was time for people to transition.  At the time of this writing, there is room for only a few of the 50 present to go.

February 18, 2014 Public Hearing Statements

Jon Ruiz, City Manager, .."our intent is not to just to go in and shut down the site, our intent is to provide time for people to transition to whatever site that Council chooses, and so that is what our intent is as we go forward and that may take whatever the reasonable time line is, an appropriate time line is and we would work toward that."

Claire Syrett, City Councilor, "I am very glad to hear the City Manager state very clearly the intention to find a new location and to invite folks at Whoville to relocate there. I think that speaks to the intent of the motion that I proposed and that this Council passed. "

Chris Pryor, City Councilor:, " ...three thoughts, the first one is i just want to be absolutely clear, i don't think it is the intention of the members of the council to shut down whoville before we have  a place for them to move.  i just want to be clear from all the conversations we've had and i believe you understand that whatever we need to do have the operating until we have an alternative in place is what our intention is and i'm hearing you say you get that you understand that.

Alan Zelenka, City Councilor,  "Yea, I concur that our intention was to have a place to go before Whoville shuts down.... ...with regard to other sites and collaborations."

The City Manager has not elected to disclose why he has decided to close the Whoville site 5 days before the Council is likely to approveon April

9 a safe a legal place for residents to go, and 11 days before the legally mandated  shutdown on April 15.  Activists have repeatedly tried to communicate to him that there could be new  Rest Stops approved April 9.  When efforts to  arrange meetings with him failed, 12 activists felt the situation so critical and potentially dangerous that they staged  a sit down in his office April 1, refusing to leave until he would meet and possibly reverse direction and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
His refusal to meet and negotiate and his decision to prematurely shutdown the site, in disregard for his and Council's explicit agreement not to do so without places to go, realizes the worst fears of Council Alan Zelenka, "...that if whoville transition blows up and is not smooth and is not peaceful, that will set us back and i surely don't want to see that happen. "

There is absolutely nothing "smooth and peaceful" about thirty police officers surrounding a site, 11 days before the official closure and ordering everone to pack everything and get out or they will be arrested.  Nor is there anything smooth and peaceful about forcing people who have been living safely in community out into the streets, alleys and parks where, just to sleep, they will be forced to break Eugene laws.

The Whoville Health Sanctuary is a community of varying size, from 30 to 50, comprised of homeless individuals.  Many have physical disabilities and mental illnesses that prevent them from qualifying for local shelters.  The Eugene Mission, a religious institution with zero tolerance for alcohol, marijuana or other drugs,  conducts random tests for drugs and alcohol and a positive test results in a 6 months eviction.  There are no other shelters sites available in Eugene. 

Eugene has one of the lowest shelter rates of any city in the United States and the WORST rate for any city north of the 40th parallel.