As Council returns to public work sessions on Wednesday, Sept. 8th, it is time to bring back my weekly blog. I have worked sporadically through the break happily launching Visual Arts Week, serving as a celebrity judge for the Slug Queen contest, joining the Pride Celebration, and promoting investments in bike infrastructure with a ride along 13th Avenue with Congressman DeFazio.
It used to be that August was a quiet month for both elected leadership and staff, but that is no longer true. Staff teams continued to work hard to finalize the first two of our new safe sleeping sites. The work is time consuming for many reasons: once sites are confirmed, they require installation of some infrastructure, and that work confronts supply and capacity limitations just as do all construction projects these days. Additionally, we face the challenge of an over-extended nonprofit social service sector. Our partners are at capacity already. That said, our first site at 2nd and Garfield, is moving toward completion and occupancy in mid-late September. This site will be managed by St. Vinnie’s.
The second smaller site at Chase Commons will hopefully open in early October but finding a service provider has been challenging. I am increasingly concerned that our capacity to extend crucial services and support to our unsheltered population will be much slower than we’d hoped because of this staffing challenge.
As this work continues, so does the effort to safely manage our temporary sites at Washington Jefferson Park and 13th, as well as the combined efforts of City teams from Parks and Open Spaces, Parking Services and Eugene Police to respond to the impacts of vehicles and tent sites throughout the City. This is a heavy lift and I understand the community’s frustration and impatience with the impacts to neighborhoods. We are one corner of a regional and national challenge: this is the legacy of our national failure to invest in affordable housing and public health, and it comes to rest on the City’s streets and open spaces. We cannot solve this alone and I continue to advocate and support federal action to provide funding and support for local governments.
There was a recent letter to the editor in the Register Guard that questioned why the City would look to “established historic neighborhoods” to address our housing shortage. My response is this: planning across the City is directed toward meeting our urgent housing needs and complying with State legislation HB 2001. No neighborhood is exempt.
And we do this for two reasons: climate change and population growth. If there is any silver lining in the raging, destructive weather this summer, it is the increasing public acceptance that we must work both to mitigate our impact on climate by reducing emissions AND we must adapt. Building housing that is energy efficient, in walkable neighborhoods close to transit, increasingly electrified through low or zero emission sources; and weatherized for extreme hot as well as cold – that work is before Council and all of you. It needs to be transformative and responsive to the fact that our weather present and future is fundamentally different from our weather of the past.
And then there’s the surge in COVID infections. We had hoped that September would mark the return of in-person Council meetings. That is clearly not going to happen. We’re back to masking, physical distancing, and hand washing. The struggle over vaccinations is painful. I understand the frustration and anger that some feel toward those who are resistant or hesitant to get vaccinated. Please keep in mind that there are many stories out there and we will bring people along with education, easy access to vaccination, and compassion. Even if a person’s fear is based on false information, their fear is real until we can inform and reassure. The City will continue to follow the Governor’s lead and the recommendations of Lane County Public Health.
Take care and I hope all had a safe holiday weekend.