City of Eugene evicts residents at 13th & Chambers camp as they close it permanently

The City of Eugene closed down the 13th & Chambers camp on Tuesday, leaving the camp in Washington-Jefferson park as its only sanctioned camp. Members of Stop the Sweeps Eugene showed up the day before to assist residents in their moving process and protest the City’s actions. Former residents of the 13th & Chambers camp were directed to a shelter run by St. Vincent de Paul which poses barriers for many, chief among them is that the site does not allow pets. The City’s stated reasoning is that the weather made the camp unlivable, however Nick Jensen from Stop the Sweeps Eugene says complaints from César E. Chávez Elementary School likely played a role in the closure.

In their press release the City of Eugene says that residents were being directed 717 Highway 99 North, an indoor site run by St. Vincent de Paul that has spots for 37 people. In addition to residents with pets being turned away, housing advocates fear that the shelter does not have enough space. Black Thistle Street Aid notes that many people have trauma with congregate shelter is not for everyone, and some people have trauma associated with these sorts of programs or are barred by the St. Vincent de Paul.

The 13th & Chambers camp had 75 camp sites at its peak, by Monday there was around a dozen, with folks already leaving with the impending closure. The camp was created by unhoused community members earlier in the pandemic and had been sanctioned by the City to allow individuals to shelter in place. The city says conditions at that camp have been deteriorating with the wet winter weather. By the last week of the camp’s operation mud conditions had been exacerbated by the city driving their vehicles through the camp and leaving tire tracks.

Nick Jensen of Stop the Sweeps says that there is a strong reason to believe that the lobbying of the Cheetah PACK (Parents and Advocates for Chávez Kids), the César E. Chávez Elementary School’s PTO (parent teacher organization), played a part in the City’s decision to close the camp. Last month the Cheetah PACK held an open forum on the Fern Ridge bike bath that goes by the school. that was attended by multiple City officials, including Chief Chris Skinner and Councilor Emily Semple. At the meeting there were many critical comments of the nearby campsite and campers from parents and school staff alike. City staff stressed that it was a temporary site. After the meeting Cheetah PACK members proposed action items, among them was getting the 13th & Chambers camp closed.

On Monday before the camp’s closure members of Stop the Sweeps held a protest and provided assistance to campers along with SolidariTea. Advocates provided free pizza to campers along with drinks and snacks. Members of Stop the Sweeps also helped individuals move their belongings.

“I have a brother who has been chronically unhoused. Luckily, he’s housed right now. But the week our mom died, the city government that he was living under, put one of his dogs to sleep because they towed his RV with a dog in it. The dog needed vet care. And he didn’t have $1,600 to get the dogs in the RV of impound. So they just killed this dog. And it’s all really heartbreaking. And I know that that happens to people living in Eugene…And we can do better. We all deserve better,” Marm, an organizer with Stop the Sweeps said on why she was out at the camp that day.

Andrew East, 48 years old, was a resident of that camp and has been homeless on and off since he was 16 years old. East says he found out that the camp would be closed through the newspaper. He wishes more people would have more empathy for the homeless. East also says he thinks much of the City’s actions around homelessness were motivated by creating a certain look for attendees of the Olympic trials.

“They don’t want the world to see Eugene’s bastard homeless. This way that wasn’t really looked at. They wanted us to be hidden out of sight. That’s why they’re coming up with all this money. Safe Sleep site so they can store us out of sight,” East said