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Whoville Campers Fear Occupy-Style Closure

One of Eugene’s Homeless at a Whoville near downtown. Photo: Todd Cooper.
One of Eugene’s Homeless at a Whoville near downtown. Photo: Todd Cooper.

Whoville campers are worried that history will repeat itself. Before the Eugene City Council’s winter break in 2011, the council and EPD had no plans to close the Occupy Eugene camp at Washington-Jefferson Park during winter break. By Christmas, it was closed. Now that the council has said the same thing about Whoville, some campers say that some of the same tactics used to justify Occupy’s closure are threatening Whoville. 

Councilor Betty Taylor called for an emergency council meeting to ensure that Whoville isn’t shut down, but a meeting was not scheduled at press time.

Tzedakah Bat Eliyah, a Whoville camper who goes by her spiritual name, says that while Whoville campers have a very positive relationship with most EPD officers, one officer has been dropping off disruptive, disturbed people at the camp, intending to make the camp unsustainable. EPD refutes the drop-off claim.

On Dec. 9, Mayor Kitty Piercy assured activists at the City Council’s public forum that neither council nor EPD planned to shut down Whoville during the break. “Immediately that night, we had three persons dropped off into our camp who were specifically told to come here,” Eliyah says. “One of them was even provided a tent by an officer in EPD who said, ‘Well, they can’t tell you not to be there.’”

She says one of the people an officer dropped off was the person later visited by Robert Eugene Wright, who police originally reported had stabbed a camper with a screwdriver Dec. 13 after an argument about Wright’s swastika face tattoo. Whovillians say Wright had a 6-inch switchblade, not a screwdriver, and describe the “stabbing” as a cut grazing a camper’s hand as he restrained Wright. Another person the police dropped off, Eliyah says, is known to have a recorded history of violent outbursts.

“I feel the whole thing was a setup of an excuse for EPD to surveil us, be closer and use any excuse to drive us off,” Eliyah says, stressing that she thinks most EPD officers have interacted helpfully with campers.

EPD’s spokesperson says in an email, “No, EPD officers are not dropping off people at the camp. We are aware that CAHOOTS dropped off a person at their request.” She adds that EPD doesn’t have immediate plans to change the way they approach Whoville. “The knife incident prompted EPD to take a closer look at conditions in and around the area,” she writes. “It is an evaluation. We don’t know yet what we will learn from that assessment.”

Eliyah says she feels safe in the camp, especially after the camp peacekeepers were able to restrain Wright without any extreme violence. “We have a couple of people here who we feel are trying to thwart the process, and they’re the ones calling EPD and exaggerating,” she says, adding that people asked to leave Whoville are also complaining. “Those are the complaints of the evicted.”

Jean Stacey of SLEEPS says if the City Council approves the rest stops, it will make things safer by making it easier for the campers and EPD to work together using trespass laws to keep out people who can’t or won’t be peaceful. “Because the council refused to legalize [the camp], that means everyone is equally illegal there, so EPD cannot remove people for any reason except that they have committed a violent crime already.”

Update [12/19/13]: Eliyah says that Whoville campers met with EPD leaders Wednesday for a discussion about health and safety. The camp is open and welcomes visitors who'd like to see it for themselves, she says, including its regularly picked up garbage and sanitation. "We feel the City Council needs to come down and visit us and give us their specific ideas of how to improve Whoville," she says.