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Homeless Shelter or Jail?

After the closure of the county’s armory warming shelter, the homeless have few choices but the county jail now.

Eugene Acting Police Chief Pete Kerns told the City Club last month that arrest and the jail is where “many” homeless mentally ill people wind up. “It’s a dry warm place where they can get warm meals and some treatment,” he said.

But instead of calling for a homeless shelter to properly treat such victims of mental illness, Kerns called for an increase in the size of the jail by up to 20 fold. The 1,600 bed jail Kerns envisions would cost $160 million to build and $50 million a year to operate, far more than a homeless shelter.

Meanwhile, Eugene police continue to take enforcement actions against human beings for the “crime” of homelessness.

According to a staff memo this week, the city code only permits being homeless under certain prescribed conditions:

“Eugene Code 4.816 allows up to three vehicles to camp on vacant, industrial, commercial, religious or public property with the owner’s permission if standards such as sanitation are met. In addition, one vehicle can camp in the driveway of a single family residence or in the backyard in a tent if the same standards are met. EC 4.815 allows limited camping on public streets.”

The memo states: “Because of the worsening economy and unemployment, the number of homeless people has increased by a third compared to last year.” And the homeless, or homeless “crime” problem as the city may see it, is only getting worse: “Despite the economy, rental vacancy rates remain low and rental rates remain high in our community. We expect an increase in complaints….”