Activists have again pitched their tents to protest the lack of places homeless people can sleep, this time in the West Eugene Wetlands. In early July, the Bureau of Land Management began clearing camps of homeless people from the wetlands. SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) is camping at a site near Danebo and Pacific in solidarity with those who have nowhere else to go.
While BLM plans restoration work on wetlands locations that have been camp sites, homeless advocates say that homeless people have no other alternative, so the work is futile. “Don’t you understand that people are just going to come back because they have nowhere else to go?” asks advocate for the homeless Alley Valkyrie. “You’re wasting your time; you’re wasting money.”
Valkyrie says that choosing between homeless people and the wetlands is a false dichotomy. “They’re falsely setting up the environmentalists against the homeless advocates in, frankly, what’s a very effective way,” she says. “If the city gave them somewhere that wasn’t delicate environmental property where they could be, they’d be there.” Valkyrie says she wants safe places for homeless people to sleep that are closer to restrooms and other services.
Homeless advocate Reagan Clark says that creating a situation in which homeless people’s best choice is to sleep in the wetlands outside of town is dangerous. “The drug abusers tend to steal from the people who do not [use drugs], so we need something that addresses that need,” he says. “These are innocent people who are being completely alienated and victimized both by the government and by the citizens of Eugene and the criminal element, which preys on them.”
What some Eugeneans don’t know, Clark says, is that the homeless population of the wetlands is about 30 percent veterans, mirroring a national trend. “There’s quite a few, including some elderly Vietnam-era veterans and other people who are severely disabled — a lot of displaced people who did nothing wrong except to happen to get sick or injured or some other misfortune occurs to them that is out of their control,” Clark says.
SLEEPS activist James Chastain’s camp in the wetlands was cleared earlier this month, and he’s protesting because he feels like homeless people have no choices in where to sleep, especially with overflowing shelters. He says that in his experience, the rights of homeless people are routinely ignored, and he wishes that Eugene had a locally produced homeless bill of rights that included the names of court decisions protecting homeless people. “I think a lot of those should be on there because it’s federal law, and when it’s federal it should be for every state in the union,” Chastain says.