EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) - City Council decided Wednesday in a five-to-three vote to extend Occupy Eugene's camping extension until January 11th.
The three hour work session was a packed house as councilors each shared their opinions and concerns with one another debating whether to extend the deadline or have the camp vacate the area as early as December 15th.
The council decided in conjunction with the extension that they would create a transitional task force to avoid putting the homeless back out on the streets.
The group discussed about eight issues in their meeting, passing nearly all of them. The motions in summary went as follows:
1 - Create a community task force made up of council members, Occupy Eugene representatives, non-profit agencies and other community members to combat homelessness.
2 - Authorize the City Manager to contract with a non-profit agency for a short-term site, like an Egan Warming Center, to help the chronic homeless with addiction issues.
3 - Authorize the City Manager to contract with one or more non-profit agencies to coordinate for transitional human services for those who are camping in Washington-Jefferson Park.
4 - Authorize the City Manager to spend up to $300,000 dollars for transitional services for people at the Occupy Eugene site and for police and other city services at the Occupy site including $35,000 dollars from Council contingency, $100,000 dollars from approved funds in the street maintenance budget and $100,000 dollars from the approved funds in parks maintenance.
5 – Extend the exemption from Council’s November 9th motion one final time until noon on January 11th, ensuring all campsites are removed from Washington-Jefferson Park as soon as practicable after the ending date.
City Council plans to further discuss expanding the ordinance addresses the current car-camping program to allow use of a tent instead of a vehicle. They also hope to modify an ordinance concerning open fires at the Occupy Eugene site.
According to Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns, Occupy Eugene has cost the department more than $100,000 dollars. He said at Monday’s meeting that the camp should be patrolled 24/7 now, and released a 19-page report in detail as to what officers have observed at Washington-Jefferson Park. He told NewsSource 16 in an earlier interview he is concerned for the safety of the public and for those at the Occupy Eugene camp.
After visiting the park with City Manager Jon Ruiz, he said changes need to be made to the site almost immediately. First, there needs to be more lighting. He also hopes Occupy coordinators will rearrange the tents so they are more spread out. With them so dark and concentrated, it poses a threat to police. He’d also like to see a change in weapons. While they need tools to survive, more items need to be added to the ‘banned’ list. He also expressed concern about children. Chief Kerns would like to see a demarked area for children.
The talk of a permanent camp was mentioned, but the majority of councilors said they didn’t think that was a good idea. Referring to past experiences, they said focused camps like that do not work. If there was any possibility for such an idea, a permanent camp would not be in Washington-Jefferson Park because it is not zoned correctly. It would take at least four months to apply for permanent camping in the city and would likely take longer due to public participation.
Occupy Eugene had asked for an extension until at least January 29th.
Mike Clark was against the decision to extend the deadline. He read a Facebook post from Occupy Eugene that implied the group plans on staying together no matter what.
“We’re diluting ourselves,” Clark told Council. “We’re simply kicking the can down the road 45 days for them to say, okay, we’ve had more time but we’re still not going to split up in any way. I believe our choice is help them with a transition to a permanent camp of some kind or say that’s enough.”
Other councilors disagreed, saying the plan as a whole is a good roadmap to where we should be as a community.
“The transition services were really to help provide near-term ways to help people that are camping move into legal shelter,” said Ruiz.
“People that think OE goes away and the camp goes away, the problem goes away and that we don’t have to look at it but the problem stays there, the costs stay there. They just get shifted and hidden in different places,” said Alan Zelenka, City Council Ward 3 representative.
Some councilors suggested extending the deadline into late February. A lot of individuals felt 28 days was not enough time to get the transitional services in line.
Occupiers said the decision was bittersweet. While they’ll get to spend the holidays together, they will eventually have to leave Washington-Jefferson Park. With that said, they don’t know where they will go. Most of the “transitional services” the city is offering do not so far include 24-7 permanent housing ideas.
“Where are they transitioning us to?” asked one occupier.
She also said that there is a fine line between protesting and advocating, but that so far advocating has not worked for them. She feels they are making headway though, considering City Council has addressed multiple concerns that Occupy Eugene hadn’t even brought to the table. Occupy Eugene also had not asked for any money, she said, but City Council voluntarily proposed giving facilities like the Egan Warming Center additional funding (at least temporarily), and that is something they are in desperate need of.
“If you want to vote to extend in order to allow the time to transition into more effective solutions, I think that’s a very worth while thing to do,” said City Council member Chris Pryor.
Pat Farr, however, disagreed. He told NewsSource 16 before the work session began that he was against the extension in November.
“From the beginning I believed and stated that concentrating people, for whatever cause, in an area not designated for extended overnight stay was untenable,” he wrote in a statement to media Tuesday. “Yesterday during my visit to the camp I specifically wanted to ascertain that large quantities of waste water were not entering our rivers and streams unprocessed. That concern was alleviated in that the waste water is captured in the kitchen area and hauled away by a sanitary service provider. It did not alleviate my concern that the food processing equipment and the utensils and plates used for serving the food were able to be maintained in a consistently sanitary manner. The camp kitchen is using, by their service staff’s estimate given to me yesterday, around 125 gallons every two days. That’s not nearly enough clean or soapy or chlorinated or hot water to guarantee sanitary service to standard that could guarantee no contamination or food poisoning.”
He also addressed the camp, saying, “You must recognize that you have gone beyond the bounds of tolerance. You cannot control the messages that are being given both in your name and about your movement. You are endangering the people of Eugene. It is time to break camp and find other ways to make your protests that don’t harm people or our city.”
Occupy Eugene will remain in the park until January 11th. City Council will meet again to discuss future plans. They are on break through the holidays.