EUGENE, Ore. — Lane County commissioners say if the recent sanitary concerns weren’t enough at the SLEEPS camp in downtown Eugene, they can now add public access and safety to the list.
Commissioners say they’ve gotten several calls from citizens who felt uncomfortable and even unsafe walking through the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. They say they’re all for exercising one’s right to freedom of speech, but they question if the setup at the Lane County Public Service Building can still be called a protest.
A fight broke out in the plaza Tuesday afternoon, which was just one instance that left some folks trying to get in and out of the public services building a bit rattled.
Jami Nilson missed the fight, but she says she was subject to others she wished she could have avoided.
“The first man I saw walking across the street to here told me not to look at him because he was crazy. So that was a little shocking at first,” said Nilson.
Lane County commissioners say Nilson isn’t alone in her apprehension; they’ve gotten several calls and e-mails from citizens and employees about similar concerns.
“I’m just kind of tired of hearing from seniors, and women for that matter, who really are not feeling safe coming down to our public service building and from my perspective, that’s absolutely unacceptable,” said Sid Leiken, Lane County Commissioner.
SLEEPS members say they’re not surprised; but they think if people give them a chance, they’d find they’re not trying to hurt anyone and people’s fears are simply a result of a misguided assumptions.
“It’s a little hurtful to just be assumed that we’re, you know, just these terrible people that are going to do bad things or whatever. We’ve been trying to be respectful to keep this walkway completely clear and we’ve been trying to be very welcoming to people coming on the plaza or into the courthouse,” said SLEEPS member Angie Bartow.
Despite that, even those who say they feel for the homeless can’t help but feel uneasy.
“I’m not typically a scared person, but I was scared to walk down the street and I didn’t think I would be because these people, they’re people just like I am so I thought we could all live here together and that there’d be anything to be afraid of, but I was scared,” said Nilson.
Rumors have been swirling that the protesters may be moved out of their other locations, like the Lane County Fairgrounds, but the downtown plaza won’t likely be cleared as soon or smoothly.
County commissioners say an agenda will be out Thursday for a special meeting to take place either next Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss how they can deal with this exact issue.