The U.S. flag is flying upside down at Whoville. This display of the flag is not disrespectful or against the law; it is a legal sign of dire distress according to the United States Code.
The distress stems from a decision by Eugene City Manager John Ruiz to shut Whoville down “the first week in April,” a week before the City Council had decided it must be closed and before any scheduled meeting of the City Council, which has not met since its March 12 work session when the council declined to take up the subject of Whoville before adjourning for a one-month vacation.
Whoville residents, some of whom are fragile and have mental or physical handicaps, are understandably anxious about the rapidly approaching breakup of their community, where over the past six month many have found supportive relationships, friends and a sense of peace and security for the first time in years.
Earlier this winter Whoville advocates believed we had an agreement with the city that Whoville would not be closed until places were found for all the residents. However on March 10, the council in a 5-2 vote decided that Whoville would be closed no later than April 15.
In addition to setting a firm deadline of April 15 at the March 10 meeting, the council authorized a 15-person rest stop on city-owned property near the Science Factory. Unfortunately, the councilors neglected one of the key points of any bureaucratic process: get buy-in from all the stakeholders.
Understandably, alerted to the fact that a rest stop would soon appear in their parking lot by a story in the The Register-Guard, the Science Factory employees, staff from Nearby Nature, Cuthbert enthusiasts, and parents of BMXers began a letter and phone campaign, expressing so much apprehension about the arrival of the Whos, that some advocates think we have been set up to fail.
With the city councilors and mayor out of town on break, advocates have attempted to connect with Ruiz, to request that he wait until April 9, after the council is back and has had its work session, to begin the closedown. We also want to request that the city find a site for this rest stop where the neighbors have not been left out of the decision-making process and are not already angry and resentful of Whoville residents. We have been trying for several days to set up a meeting with Ruiz to make these requests but he has not returned our calls.
Beyond the acceleration of the closing down of Whoville, the advocates would like the public to think about a more significant question: Why does the city want to dismantle a working community, one which is keeping about fifty unhoused people out of the downtown area, saving the city money in arrests and court costs, and providing basic sanitation — including a place to poop — only to send people back out to hidey holes in the alleys, along the river and under bridges? How does this bring about a safer, better Eugene?
Taking a page out of Kafka, the Eugene Police Department has posted “Notice” signs at Whoville announcing that people must leave the site and directing them to call three social service agencies to help them “comply with this Notice:” St. Vincent de Paul’s First Place Family Center, which works with family with children under 18 — there are no children at Whoville; Whitebird Homeless Case Management, which can offer little help regarding safe shelter; and an unidentified number, which no one answers.
Our mayor, Kitty Piercy, sometimes reminds us that we cannot immediately provide shelter for all the unhoused in our community. But we do have the fate of this one particular group — the Whos — in our hands. If we evict them without making provisions for their relocation, we criminalize them. The United Nations Human Rights Committee recently condemned the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Why don’t we become leaders and start here, with Whoville, to be the Human Rights City we aspire to be? Let’s legalize survival.