A member of a homeless family that includes a three-month-old baby, says they were ordered out of their illegally parked family van by Eugene police officers on a cold night Nov. 19, and told their van would be towed.
Eugene Police officer Joshua Sundquist called a tow truck, but as it was en route, upset father Chris Bourland demanded to speak to the officer’s sergeant. According to Bourland, when the police sergeant arrived, officers canceled the tow truck and instead gave the family $1,000 in fines for prohibited camping and ordered them to leave the area by the Washington-Jefferson Skate Park.
Bourland called EW the morning after the incident, saying he was traumatized and worried the same officer would find his family’s van in another part of the town. Bourland said his girlfriend was trying to nurse their baby when the officers gave them 15 minutes to get their things out of the vehicle. She was crying, nursing and trying to pack their things alone, because officers wouldn’t let Bourland near the van once they arrived, he says.
Bourland, 27, also plans to speak at a Nov. 23 Eugene City Council meeting on how the police treated his family.
However, EPD public information officer, Melinda McLaughlin, says the family was first cited for illegal camping in that area on Nov. 6, and that officers could have towed the vehicle on the second citation (Nov. 19), but decided not to, given the family’s situation.
“The officer called for CAHOOTs to bring them to the family center at Eugene Mission because he would impound the van. He didn’t do that. Instead of towing the vehicle, because it was the time of the day and because it was cold out, they provided a new notice for prohibited camping,” McLaughlin said. She added that Officer Sundquist also called several social services for the family in the past few weeks.
“It has become a hotspot for illegal camping,” she says of the area around the skate park. McLaughlin says the police issued multiple citations to people camping in vehicles around the skate park on Nov. 6, hoping to break up the growing popularity for parking in that area.
On Nov. 23, the Eugene City Council unanimously voted on a program for overnight camping in approved public spaces, from 4:30 pm to 7:30 am. The “dusk to dawn” program is for people on foot, though, and does not allow people in vehicles, like Bourland, to participate.
The city does fund a car camping program, managed by St. Vincent de Paul, where churches and businesses agree to host individuals or families in their vehicle.
“We fund it; we have a code that permits it but it really is a St. Vincent de Paul program,” says Mia Cariaga, division manager at the city manager’s office.