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City moving homeless camp to south Eugene parking lot.

Byline: Christian Hill The Register-Guard

For the second time in eight months, tenants of a city- sanctioned homeless camp will be on the move, this time to south Eugene.

Eugene city officials have directed the six remaining tenants to move from the Eugene Mission to a portion of a city-owned parking lot near the Good Samaritan Society assisted-living center near East 34th Avenue and Hilyard Street by the end of the month.

The pending move illustrates the ongoing challenges city officials have had in finding a longer-term location for the camp, authorized under the city's "rest stop" program.

City officials said the new camp, authorized under Eugene's car camping program, will provide the tenants a safe and legal space as they work with the camp's operator and neighborhood associations to find that longer-term location for the rest stop.

The pending move complies with one recent directive of Eugene city councilors while taking a step back on another directive.

In November, city councilors initiated the eventual expansion of the rest stop program to each of the city's eight council wards. They also directed that one of the existing five rest stops in Ward 7, which includes the Whiteaker neighborhood, move to one of those newly identified sites.

All five of the city's rest stops are in or near Whiteaker, which is also home to the Eugene Mission that serves hundreds of homeless people daily.

Whiteaker residents have urged city councilors to disperse the concentration of homeless people to other parts of Eugene.

The Eugene Mission took in the rest stop, managed by Nightingale Health Sanctuary, in August after city plans to move it onto a undeveloped park property in the Santa Clara area fell through because of neighborhood opposition.

At the time, the rest stop needed to move from county-owned property behind Lane County Behavioral Health Services on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The stay on the mission property was for six months, giving the time city officials said they needed to find a long-term location.

The deadline arrived in February with no location identified so the city extended the rest stop's stay for another two months, or until April 30.

Given the uncertain future, the city directed the rest stop to stop accepting new tenants in February, so its population dwindled from about a dozen to seven, said Nathan Showers, the rest stop's manager and a member of Nightingale's steering committee.

A couple of tenants found housing, two left the rest stop voluntarily and one was kicked out, he said. One tenant will not be making the move to south Eugene. Each rest stop can accommodate up to 20 tenants, under city regulations.

Numerous neighborhood associations are working with the city to identify possible locations for rest stops around the city. But with no location firmed up, city officials came up with a backup plan.

The remaining tenants will move into six Conestoga huts - small, durable shelters loaned by Community Supported Shelters, which operates the four other rest stops sanctioned by the city.

"We feel like it's a good next step, and people are still working on the idea of expanding the rest stop program," city spokeswoman Jan Bohman said.

Under the city's car camping program, up to six vehicles or huts are allowed at a camp location.

Eugene city councilors have to approve rest stop locations but not car camping locations. In the Eugene-Springfield area, there are about 43 car camping sites that accommodate about 70 people.

The new south Eugene car camp will be fenced and it will have portable toilets and garbage pickup. Both car camps and rest stops prohibit disruptive behavior and drugs or alcohol. They both work to connect tenants to social services to help them find jobs and housing.

Regan Watjus, the city's policy coordinator on homelessness, said finding rest stop locations is challenging because officials consider numerous factors, including its suitability for camping, access for trash pickup, portable restroom service and emergency vehicles and proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and transit and bike paths.

Heather Sielicki, president of the Southeast Neighbors, said representatives of her neighborhood association and four others have convened a working group to identify possible rest stop locations in south Eugene.

Similar work is being done by neighborhood associations in north Eugene and along River Road, she said.

"It definitely takes a long time to find something that meets the criteria," she said.

Watjus said the 34th and Hilyard location had been on a previous list of possible rest stop sites.

Showers, the rest stop manager, expressed frustration with his rest stop's continued moves but said a move to south Eugene would be a chance for his organization to help residents move past stereotypes about homeless people.

Demonstrating to neighbors that its car camp is clean and safe may make them more receptive to having a larger and longer- term rest stop in the area in the future, Showers said.

"I think it's going to be an eye-opener to a lot of people who haven't seen homelessness," he said.

Michael Carrigan, another Nightingale steering committee member, said he was disappointed about the difficulties to find a new rest stop location but was excited that Southeast Neighbors "put out the welcome mat" for his organization and the homeless people it's helping.

Follow Christian on Twitter @RGchill. Email
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Title Annotation:Eugene Government; Six tenants will relocate by the end of the month as officials work to find a long-term site for the rest stop
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 15, 2017
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