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No Room at the Inn

Lack of options leads to chronic homelessness

A woman with mild developmental disabilities finds herself in an abusive relationship with a man who is also the father of her 8-year-old daughter. Tired of the physical violence and verbal abuse, she files for a restraining order and has the man removed from their shared apartment in a Section-8 housing unit. 

The woman still does not feel safe from her abuser and begins to develop an escape plan with her friend who lives in Eugene. The friend promises a new start, a place to stay while she works on getting housing and a job, and convinces her to buy a bus ticket.  

When the woman and her daughter arrive in Eugene just before midnight, they are exhausted from traveling. She calls her friend only to discover that the woman does not own a car and really can’t house them because she doesn’t have the resources to help. The woman is now stuck with her child in a place she has never been before, and it’s the middle of the night on a cold, rainy Friday.

Fortunately the kind man at the Greyhound station knows of a service that can at least help her problem-solve, so he calls CAHOOTS.

When the CAHOOTS team arrives, the crisis worker and medic try every route they can think of, but no one has space or the ability to shelter this small family at such a late hour. In fact, every shelter in town for which the two might qualify now has very specific processes and restrictions that make it impossible for them to provide emergency shelter in this kind of situation.

The only solution is to try to convince the University District hospital to allow them to sleep in chairs in their lobby so, at the very least, they can be warm. Maybe one of the housing services can get them in, but not until Monday.

This story is far from unique, and a lack of options for emergency shelter is a key lack in our safety net, and the hole is growing every day in Eugene.  

As that hole grows, more people are swallowed into the pit of chronic homelessness. Some give up; some move to another city that hopefully has more resources; and some keep fighting to find housing, often to no avail. 

Mental-health issues further compound the problem. And for many, with or without mental health issues, the constant stress of living on the streets drives them to cope by using substances.

For those who do succumb to addiction, the likelihood of finding any form of housing is even more dismal because Eugene does not have an emergency shelter for anyone who is suffering from substance abuse and/or dual diagnosis of both addiction and mental health issues. 

A growing number of folks are discovering that there are simply very few options for emergency shelter — “no room at the inn.” Unless you can carefully schedule the way your life falls apart as you descend into a housing crisis, you are unlikely to find emergency shelter when you need it. The economic downturn — compounded by a lack of funding, zoning laws, NIMBYism and prejudices — have all contributed to our current situation locally.

Additionally, the constant flow of negative sensationalist journalism with titles like KEZI’s “Panhandler’s Paradise” series (wkly.ws/1v5) has continued to foster dissent against vulnerable individuals who find themselves without a house. It is increasingly difficult to find shelter for those who suddenly find themselves down on their luck and out in the streets at night.   

What is needed is more local support for the well-researched Housing First Model, with inclusive shelters and rest-stop sites that would house even those struggling with mental health issues and/or substance abuse. 

Until we have these kinds of options for those who find themselves homeless, we will continue to see the problems grow locally, concurrent with the amount of wasted tax dollars and increasing numbers of individuals struggling to survive on the streets.

What happened to the age-old notion of taking care of our neighbors, where communities pulled together to support one another? When did our law enforcement and prison systems become our community’s fallback solution to poverty, mental health issues and homelessness? 

It’s getting cold again in Eugene. The chilly holiday season is here and yet there are fewer and fewer shelter options, and not a manger to be found.