Lane County Clears Plaza

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EUGENE, Ore. — After more than three hours of discussion, the Lane County Board of Commissioners voted to close down the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.

The board cited public health and safety concerns as a major motivator behind their move. The closure will also include the county-owned land around the plaza as well as the “butterfly” parking lot, not far away.

The decision came down to a vote of four to one with Commissioner Pete Sorenson being the sole vote against the closure.

“Homelessness in Eugene or anywhere in America is a tragedy,” said Becky, a market vendor.

Most everyone who spoke during the special session appeared to agree with that statement.

“And helping them in their time of need is the right thing for anyone to do,” Becky said.

And even that one, but how that should be done was definitely up for interpretation.

“The way to ask for help is not to invade public property, leaving messes in your wake, with no regard for the safety of others or the law,” Becky said.

That was just part of the extensive discussion.

“That area out there has gone through a lot in the last couple of weeks, but to say that it is a mess. Those folks haven’t been out there talking to people and looking at what’s been done,” said Mary, who’s with SLEEPS.

Following public comments, county counsel revealed to the board a number of complaints from downtown residents and employees regarding their health and safety concerns, noting a 20-percent increase in public safety calls for service to the area during the same time periods in June and July.

In the end, the presentations given resulted in a majority vote to clean the plaza, which meant shutting it down for a period of time. The county will use the closure to clean the areas, which could last up to a week. After that, the area will be re-opened during the day, but closed at night between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

And though there were heated arguments about whether this was an infringement on freedom of speech, the reasoning behind Commissioner Sorenson’s dissenting vote, majority board members insist it’s not about clamming people up.

“The motion also included–and this was a recommendation by Commissioner Stewart–that we work very diligently to make sure that there is available space for free speech,” said Sid Leiken, Lane County Commissioner.

The closure was effective immediately. Eugene Police officers were actually outside as soon as the meeting let out to make sure the area was cleared for cleaning.


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  1. jasonmarks says:

    what a joke. they want free services and don’t mind wasting tons of money. then complain that nothing is being done to give them a free hand out and a vagabond lifestyle.

    Pathetic people being a waste of space and tax dollars.

    The money could actually be used for a good cause. (this isn’t it)

    1. Kay says:

      No, actually they’re not asking for free services at all. They just want the right to sleep, whether it be downtown to in a designated place. The money they’re “wasting” by protesting is nothing compared to the amount of money EPD and the city wastes ticketing and prosecuting them for sleeping. Why don’t you learn the facts before labeling an entire group of people as pathetic? You know what’s pathetic? Men like you who apparently aren’t worried about the fact that women are being raped on the street because they have nowhere legal and safe to sleep.

  2. Lynn says:

    Now if they can just get them off River road and Chambers. This whole thing is frustrating.

    1. Kay says:

      Gee, I’m sorry you’re so frustrated by the fact that there are people who have nothing and don’t even have the right to sleep. Poor, poor you.

  3. scotty perey says:

    “free hand out” … that’s about as original as “get a job!” I think they need to issue a second edition of the Ayn Rand Catchphrase Dictionary, lol

    You want a waste of tax dollars??? What do you call bringing this back into the courts on the VERY SAME PRETENSE that got this case dismissed last time?

    You see, judges don’t like having their opinions ignored, especially by public officials. And that’s what four of the commissioners did today — and get this — based on the “legal” advice of the very same attorney that 1) is under investigation for perjury in the aforementioned case that was dismissed, and 2) is under investigation for the very same type of fraud that got his buddy Liane Richardson fired from her job.

    These “pathetic people” as “jasonmarks” so compassionately refers to them as are actually very inspired. They have a sense of COMMUNITY and FAMILY that many of them haven’t had in a long time if ever, and they are invigorated by seeing how they can be so readily activated as a part of the political process. It is actually pretty cool to behold.

    Folks, as Pete Sorenson mentioned today, this isn’t about the sanitation issues that the local authorities are using their cover… it’s about not wanting to see the results of our nation’s priorities smack dab up in the middle of our faces. We’ve got lots of money for the war machine, and we have lots of money for taxbreaks that see huge corporations paying NOTHING in taxes (and locally, the same tax giveaways to that ugly thing going up at 12th and Willamette). But our local “leaders” harp about not “having the resources” to deal with our own citizens’ misery here at home?

    Don’t swallow the Kool-Aid. There are many reasons people are homeless, and they are certainly NOT all lazy layabouts wanting a “hand outs” To suggest otherwise is either disingenuous or laziness itself. Or, quite often of course, just plain bigotry.

    I’d suggest going down to the old Federal Building at 7th & Pearl and meeting some of these people before castigating them with blanket statements and platitudes. You might find yourself rather surprised, impressed, and perhaps even inspired yourself at their engagement at the democratic process that we are always hearing is what makes this country great.

    P.S. actually utilizing your Constitutional rights isn’t always so “convenient” or “pleasant” to the government or in the public eye… uh, maybe that’s WHY THEY WERE NEED TO BE ENSHRINED IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    Kudos to this most vulnerable population in our town — the “least of my brothers and sisters” as one famous economic analyst put it — for taking on local corruption, malfeasance, and misguided priorities in a more expedient way than most anyone else has in our community in a long, long time!

  4. Leonard Bruce says:

    God’s view on the poor is very clear. Before we discuss God’s commandments on how we should treat the poor, let us first look at what God’s opinion of the poor is. Jesus is an excellent example of what a poor person was in his day. In fact, it is safe to say that Jesus was a homeless person at least some of the time (see Luke 9:58). The people that Jesus associated with were homeless and poor as well. Paul, who was a close follower of Jesus wrote “even until now we…have no certain dwellingplace” (see 1 Corinthians 4:11). And finally, Paul writes that God’s only begotten Son became poor although he was rich for our sakes (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). It is very evident in just these three verses, that God loves poor people very much. If God made Jesus, his one and only Son, a poor and homeless person, then it is safe to say that God actually esteems the poor and glorifies them.

    How does God want other people to view the poor and the homeless? The Bible states that God will deliver the poor from their affliction (see Psalms 107:41). Since Christians should look toward God as an example of how to live, the poor are the responsibility of the people. Most people see the poor and homeless as a burden and an eyesore. There are calls from the “nice” neighborhoods to “clean up the streets” by having the police “sweep” the street people away. When a homeless person asks a pedestrian for some spare change, a common response might be “get a job”. This is definitely not the attitude that God wants us to have toward the poor. In fact, as we will see a little later, these attitudes shall be punished. In Matthew 25 starting at verse 34, Jesus makes a very powerful statement. On judgment day in heaven, the goats shall be separated from the lambs. The goats are symbolic of the wicked and the lambs symbolize the righteous. The righteous shall reside with Jesus in heaven eternally and the wicked shall be condemned to everlasting punishment. Jesus explains that the reasoning for this is that whenever someone feeds someone who is hungry or gives drink to the thirsty, he is actually doing so unto Jesus himself (see Matthew 25:45). This verse alone makes a powerful statement of how people should treat those that are in need.

    When a person gives unto the poor he is actually giving unto God. God is a great rewarder of those that help the poor. In the Old Testament God actually commanded his people to help if a brother was poor and had no place to live (see Deuteronomy 15:7). Solomon wrote that if we have mercy on the poor we honor God (see Proverbs 14:31). It pleases God when we give to the poor. If more people knew that every time we gave spare change to a homeless person on the street that we are actually lending money to God himself, I think it would happen more often (see Proverbs 19:17). God actually promises that all the money that a person gives to the poor will be given back to him. In this materialistic world, most people would do anything to be rich. It is very common to sacrifice morals for monetary gain. God’s view on this is plain. It is better to be poor and wise in the Lord, than rich and unrighteous (see Proverbs 28:6).

    Not only will God reward those that help the poor and homeless, but he will punish those that oppress them. Many people have been taught that it’s okay to step on people in order to move up in the world. Taking advantage of the poor is an attitude that God will judge. Not surprisingly, God’s very first commandment regarding treatment of the poor deals with lending money. Poor people usually are the first to ask for a loan. Because they need the money so badly, they are willing to pay a higher interest rate on the money. Interest is also known as usury. God forbids the rich to charge any interest at all to his people if they be poor (see Exodus 22:25). It is also common to pay low wages to the poor because they are so desperate for money. The Bible calls this oppression and it is also forbidden by God as we read his commandments and laws (see Deuteronomy 24:14). It is frightful what God says would happen to the man that persecutes the poor. If a person knew that oil would come into his bones because he persecuted the poor, isn’t it possible that he might refrain from doing it (see Psalms 109:16)? Ignoring the “street people” when they ask for change is also a very common response. People sometimes do not even acknowledge that they are there. God is not fond of that attitude and says that when a person ignores the cries of the poor, he will cry also and not be heard (see Proverbs 21:13).

    So as we can see, God’s attitude toward the homeless is one of mercy and love. It almost seems as if we should treat these people as we are one of them. This is not so far from the truth. Paul writes that the chosen people of God are the base of the world. It is the people that are despised of the world that are called to give glory to God and do his work (see 1 Corinthians 1:28). My prayer is that governmental leaders and all people view the homeless as precious souls that can improve our character and our relationship with God. The homeless are not people to be avoided; they are there to be loved. Let’s try to treat other people the way we would like to be treated by showing mercy in their time of need.

  5. Tonya says:

    What really made me upset about this is the police were already there. “The closure was effective immediately. Eugene Police officers were actually outside as soon as the meeting let out to make sure the area was cleared for cleaning.” So that tells me know matter what was said or the vote was they already were planning to make them leave.

  6. Joseph Newton says:

    I am disappointed that you focused so much on one virulently hateful speaker who was promulgating false stereotypes. My understanding of the motion is that the curfew was deferred for the work session on the 17th, and that the only decision made today was the closure for cleaning.

    Whatever “Becky” may think of it, the law is on our side.It is the dominance of our economy by corporations that has made us once again a nation of shanty-towns. What this protest has done is present the daily reality for over 3,000 citizens prominently in the public eye–precisely the kind of purpose the 1st Amendment was intended to protect.

    The olfactory is the most subjective of senses, closely tied to the limbic. Strongly emotive memories may bring a scent fresh to the nose, and preconceived assumptions often shape perceptions.

    It is true that some who have severe behavior problems sought to exploit the protest as cover for anti-social activity., adn SLEEPS advocates have earnestly reported illegal and unsafe behaviors to law-enforcement, with no response. That is NOT the protester’s responsibility. It is that of police who fail to distinguish protected exercise of expressive rights from blatant public lawbreaking.

    Watch the County’s official video to get a more balance view of public input at the meeting, and the course of deliberations to follow.

  7. Tank Commander says:

    So what is your plan? What suggestions do you have to remedy this? Please, no generalities about corporate greed and arms, how about some specific ideas to handle the problem locally?

  8. Lotus says:

    Tank: This problem cannot be resolved locally because it is not caused by only local elements and variables. What I think you are asking for are immediate solutions for suffering people?

    In that case, instead of paying tons of money to erect fences (like around the old city hall), why not pay for numerous public bathrooms? We all know the houseless have to poop, so, do the healthy, sanitary thing and give them a better place than in the park. We could also use any of the numerous empty lots around town to allow them to set up a camp for themselves similar to R2D2 in Portland. Or better yet, the 100,000 that was supposed to go towards a wet bed facility (as promised by the city), could in fact go toward a wet bed facility…. just a few things to think of, off the top of my head.

    In reality, those are just band-aids. In the nearly-two years that I have been involved in Eugene-area politics, I find that the biggest deterrents to solutions are, in fact, oppressive ordinances which treat the poor as if they are subhuman, the politicians who refuse to change inhumane laws and ordinances, and the various sections of law enforcement who are routinely sent to execute inhumane orders like putting out the fire of homeless mothers trying to keep their children warm (this happened to me) in the middle of winter.

    Truth be told, if our local officials cared more about ALL the people they represent, and less about cash flow (Google: Liane Richardson former County Administrator), maybe we would have the resources to attend to the more vulnerable parts of our city instead of terrorizing them. Maybe we could change ordinances which prevent people from sleeping at night, from living in their cars because it is all they have, and from staying warm in the long, wet, Willammette Valley winters.

  9. The Dude says:

    Glad to see this eye-sore gone. Hope our leaders won’t be so timid to take action next time.

  10. Missparker45 says:

    There are places to sleep, the Eugene Mission, many churches are involved in a cycle where they let people sleep/have hot breakfast. I know that the sleeping/eating arrangements offered by the churches are not being used by many people. Why is that? Is it because of the rules required to stay there? I’m not being sarcastic, I would like to know. It seems as if there is an underutilized program available.

    1. Kay says:

      The Eugene Mission is full. Last month they cut the number of beds by over 100, and now there’s a waiting list. And you’re wrong about the sleeping/eating arrangements by the churches not being used. They are also full. Point to me one church that has room. Churches host people through First Place, and through the St. Vinnie’s car camping program, and there are waiting lists for both. Churches are starting to host people in Conestoga huts, but there is a waiting list for that as well, also handled through St. Vinnie’s.

      Not to mention that the Mission does not allow pets, does not allow families to stay together with their children, and bans people for six months if they’re under the influence. The Mission is currently searching bags randomly and kicking out OMMP patients with valid cards. It’s also very uncomfortable and oppressive for people who are not Christian. I have a friend who is an observant Jew, and being forced to go to Gospel every night was just too much for her. Nobody wants to end their night being told that they’re going to hell. She chose the streets.

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