City of Eugene Closes Washington Jefferson Park, Displaces Houseless Residents Into Neighborhood Streets
On the evening of Mar. 15, police officers arrived at Washington Jefferson Park and told residents that they would all have to vacate the area by midnight. The demand came after the city revoked it’s pandemic-related exception of the no-camping rule.
The sides of the park were posted with 72-hour cleanup notices on Feb. 24. Stating that the area would be closed to all but city employees, it would be a violation to even stand across the street at a bus stop.
The campers in the park, itself, got their notices on Mar. 4.
The sweep didn’t happen that night. Instead, it began bright and early the next morning with what felt like the entire Eugene Police Department—either present at the park or driving around the Whitaker neighborhood—and workers with the city involved. Around 7 a.m., two tents caught fire and were put out by the Eugene-Springfield Fire Department.
By 9 a.m., trucks loaded with chain-link fence arrived and workers began to set up a perimeter from 5th Ave. to the bike ramp over the railroad tracks.
At the same time as the sweep, members of Stop The Sweeps had a discussion with the city’s communication manager for unhoused response, Kelly McIver, where they asked several questions about the city’s policies. A part of their recorded conversation:
In response to a question about the city’s “criteria of being in good-standing, or being an established camper,” McIver said, essentially, anyone who arrived at the park prior to the city’s “gridding,” maintained compliance with the temporary camping rules, and weren’t repeatedly asked to leave were considered “established campers.”
“Can you see how that really, like, stratifies the unhoused community into a level that appears as though worthy of help and one that isn’t,” STS responded back. McIver said he understood but that the rules weren’t arbitrary when, as STS mentioned, city officials and police officers have made selective decisions in the moment. “We’ve seen, in detail, up close, firsthand that the way those parks rules, those temporary rules were applied was extremely selective, very much up to the people working the parks and EPD to decide,” STS said.
Earlier in the conversation, McIver had said that he was disappointed but not surprised that the St. Vincent de Paul houseless site was only half full to which STS asked if that was because that meant that not a lot of people decided to do so. “I don’t know if you’re aware but the words that I hear most to describe those sites is ‘FEMA Camp’ and there’s a lot of fear around what happens in those sites and what life there is going to be like,” STS said.
McIver’s response was that “yes, it’s not going to be the perfect fit for some folks but where is the site that would be the good fit for them?” He then asked “are you guys able to be the service provider for a site,” to which members of STS could only offer a laugh before asking “how much money did you give to St. Vinnies for this?”
STS reiterated what they’ve heard on-the-ground in the park from residents and know about how St. Vinnies operates.
“St. Vinnies, point blank, turns a lot of people away,” they said. “Hearing the words ‘St. Vincent de Paul’ is a ‘no-go’ for a huge portion of the people who live here.” McIver replied “but it shouldn’t be.”
Another person with STS responded to him and said “It’s St. Vinnies actions that causes that, Kelly”
“It’s St. Vinnies mistreating people,” they added. “It’s St. Vinnies saying that they’re going to have their tents walked into three times a day regardless of whether or not they’re there.”
The conversation continued with more examples of how residents feel that St. Vinnies is both unsafe and inadequate.
“People having to be on a camera 24/7, only getting one meal a day when they’re not allowed to cook on-site, could you do that? Could you eat one meal a day?” STS asked. The latter set McIver off and an excited debate ensued.
“They’re getting one meal provided for them,” he said, adding extra emphasis on “provided.” When STS rebuffed his comment and asked what residents should then do for another meal, McIver suggested that “they can go off-site” before STS asked who was going to pay for them to get food or transportation to do so.
In response, McIver—hopefully replying based on personal beliefs and not those of the city government—said “but I provide, but I maintain a home.” When STS asked, “so you deserve to eat in your home,” McIver, rather inhumanely, said “I make that happen for myself.”
Later in the conversation, McIver attempted to walk-back his comment and explain that he never said the word “deserve” explicitly and to “wind the tape back,” acknowledging, for the first time, that the conversation was being recorded. STS maintained that that was implied in what he said about “maintaining a home” somehow being a qualification for more than one meal a day.
By 1 p.m., the park was mostly empty aside from a handful of tents. Outside the newly-fenced perimeter, many of the park’s former residents gathered along the sidewalks, some of them still trying to pack up their belongings.
In at least one area of the park, city trucks had dug up the muddy dirt with their tires — officially making the park suitable for the “restoration” they called for.
Inside the park: an assortment of activity. One crew of city workers set up the far-end of the fencing right under the bicycle ramp that goes over the railroad tracks. In the middle of the park, city employees stood in a circle chatting with one another. And then, sprinkled around the park in various locations, were smaller crews picking up people’s leftover belongings.
Around 3 p.m., workers began to formally secure the fencing together and a few were still there doing so as of 5 p.m.
It is unclear where the park’s former residents are going to go. Undoubtedly, they will move somewhere in the surrounding area only to be, once again, swept away to find someplace else.