Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Apr 16

April 16, 2021

Posted on April 16, 2021 at 10:18 AM by Niyah Ross

Two more young black men have been shot by police in Chicago and Minnesota as we are watching the Derek Chauvin trial; Asians feel the daily assault of hate crimes; and our COVID infection rates began to rise. This has been a traumatizing week. Council received a report on the impact of COVID on Eugene households.  While 45% of white respondents said they had experienced emotional distress through the pandemic, the percent for Spanish-speaking respondents was 70%.  The tensions around and within our community are profound.  At the public forum on  Monday night, members of the community called on the city to ban fossil fuel infrastructure; to direct more public safety measures to reduce and control the impact of criminal behavior associated with some of larger homeless campsites; urged the passing of “Clear and Objective” land use standards; and complained of the City’s investment in the former LCC building on Willamette that will include some market rate housing.

I began the public session for the first time with a land acknowledgement.  This will be a continuing and consistent statement before every public forum and is part of the City’s work to begin to build stronger relationships and partnerships with Tribal governments and Indigenous people who live in our community.  I also began with an apology for the City’s failure to formally recognize and participate in Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31st.  It was a mistake and we pledge to work more closely with the Transgender community.

This was our first week back since March 17th and Council made a significant decision: to hold a public hearing on a plan to allow the creation of multiple larger tent and car camping sites for our increasing number of unsheltered people.  Up to this point, our priority has been to shelter people in smaller settings – Council approved five new rest stops in 2020 that can each accommodate 20 units; and the City also permits microsites of six units.  The ordinance would allow up to 300 tents in groups up to 40 at 4-8 locations; and 200 car campers in groups up to 60 vehicles in 2-4 locations.

The health and safety of campsites this size depends on location and on the management and services that are available.  The City has formed a “unified command” team, just as they did for the pandemic, to coordinate the response to the growth in our unsheltered population.  That team is working with businesses, neighborhoods, and other partners to identify sites to purchase or lease.  If, after the public hearing on April 26th, Council votes in favor of the ordinance, the City will be able to move forward to finalize agreements for new sites. 

The sites will be managed; the City will coordinate with public and private partners to help campers connect to social services and to ensure compliance to keep the sites safe.  I am hopeful that the City and County will be able to coordinate navigation services that can integrate with the County’s Coordinated Entry system through which unsheltered people access housing and other support systems.

Also scheduled on April 26th, the Council will have a work session reviewing the impacts and potential adjustments to our regulations related to car camping.  Businesses in the West 7th area in particular have been deeply impacted by a large number of RVs, trailers and cars that block access to driveways and prevent large trucks from accessing their businesses.  But they are not alone – the impacts are felt across the community and Council is ready to explore options to adjust existing policies to more successfully manage this situation.

Safety is a big issue.  People who are unsheltered commit crimes of survival – managed sites reduce that activity because survival needs are met.  More serious and threatening behavior has left some neighborhoods feeling under siege and unsafe.  As I have said many times, we need to provide shelter and services for people who want and need them and enable the police to address criminal behavior.  We should not confuse one with the other but target our efforts.

We are all impatient for solutions.  At the end of the day, camping is not a solution.  Housing and adequate mental health, addiction and other services are the solution.  There’s reason for hope – the new Administration is focused on housing investment and homelessness and they are directing the funds to help us begin to meet the need.

Finally, COVID is on the rise in Lane County.  It will be sunny and warm this weekend – please enjoy the weather and be careful: wear your masks, wash your hands, maintain distance, and keep your gatherings small with friends and family.  Thank you.