On Dec. 20, a small crowd of supporters once again followed Rod Adams to the Eugene Municipal Court as he faced sentencing for criminal trespass by sleeping near buildings on the city’s sidewalks.
As a homeless man who has been ticketed or arrested more than 40 times in Eugene for a variety of minor, nonviolent crimes during the past nine years, Adams has been taking his cases to trial to start a conversation about the criminalization of homelessness.
Adams himself is a controversial figure who often videos police interactions; he also criticizes some of the advocates and groups who seek to help the unhoused.
Attorney Joseph Connelly represented Adams at sentencing for a conviction of criminal trespass (see Eugene Weekly 12/14/2017) and for a probation violation from a separate criminal trespass case that went to trial Nov. 15 (EW 11/22/2017).
But Adams was also assigned a new attorney, Andrew Kraushaar, who will represent him in late January on multiple counts of criminal trespass in the second degree and disorderly conduct.
At the start of the sentencing hearing, Connelly and Judge Richard Fredericks discussed the counter-productivity of jailing Adams time and time again. “Putting him in jail is probably costing the city more money and resources than just putting him in an apartment,” Connelly said.
The judge agreed and acknowledged his change in thinking since his previous sentencing of one year of probation and seven days in jail if the probation was violated.
“The point is that in all of these cases, Adams always gets up, cleans up and moves on,” Connelly said. “It would not be a ridiculous suggestion to ask police to simply wake people like Mr. Adams up, ask him to move on and just let him go.”
Arwen Maas-DeSpain, who works with Occupy Medical and Carry it Forward — two organizations that directly help the homeless in Eugene — spoke at the hearing about the lack of available resources for Adams and the homeless community at large. Maas-DeSpain was not allowed to speak at Adam’s first trial, where that judge also did not allow the issue of homelessness to be addressed.
Maas-DeSpain testified that, more often than not, all services in Lane County, and specifically those for veterans that Fredericks has asked Adams to look into, require two things: The person must be homeless and must have been diagnosed with a mental or physical illness.
Adams, she said, does not need or want to be diagnosed with a mental or physical illness, making him ineligible for those services.
“Rod to me represents a bit of the population that falls through the cracks in our available resources in our community,” Maas-DeSpain said. “He just ends up not fitting into the criteria for most of the programs here.”
Further, even if Adams did agree to saying that he has an illness, all programs include some level of case management — essentially a manager coming in to check up on the person, doing anything from enforcing a curfew to consistently checking in — something Adams says he should not have to agree to.
“It’s a matter of human dignity — he’s looking at what he’d have to, or be forced to, give up by taking part in the services our city provides,” Connelly said.
“Let me ask you this: Could Mr. Adams become housed if he would merely go through the steps that are required for the case management criteria?” Fredericks asked. “It seems that way to me, and maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like he just won’t do it.”
“That’s a little bit of a trick question,” Maas-DeSpain answered. “You’re asking somebody to agree to something that feels like a human rights violation — giving up his freedom.”
The judge said he’s been working intently on this case outside of the courtroom, and that there is no easy answer to the issue at hand. He said Adams’ choice-of-evils defense would fail in his courtroom, but it might prevail on appeal to a higher court.
Adams has been appealing his criminal trespass convictions in hopes of tackling this issue at a different level.
“We just haven’t been able to talk about homelessness, which doesn’t feel like justice to me,” Maas-DeSpain said. “If there are ways to allow that talk to happen, then something different might happen here.”
Fredericks sentenced Adams to four days in jail, two for each count of criminal trespass, and one year of probation. Adams will be represented by Kraushaar on Jan. 31 at his trial for criminal trespass in the second degree and disorderly conduct.