Rest stop finds new home in Eugene

Rest stop finds new home in Eugene
Posted on 05/08/2016

An overnight homeless camp will move to the Eugene Mission instead of the Santa Clara area

By Christian Hill

The Register-Guard

For the second time in a week, Eugene city officials have announced a new home for a city-sanctioned overnight homeless camp that must move from its current location near Autzen Stadium.

The announcement that the camp will move onto property at the Eugene Mission comes less than a week after the city backtracked on an earlier announcement that the camp, known as a rest stop in city parlance, would move to the Santa Clara neighborhood. Residents and businesses near the proposed location had expressed concerns.

City staff said at the time they would review feedback from the neighborhood in considering how best to move forward.

On Thursday, City Manager Jon Ruiz said in a press release that the mission offered to allow the rest stop, operated by the nonprofit group Nightingale Health Sanctuary, to locate on its property on West First Avenue for six months. The move — from behind Lane County Behavioral Health Services on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — is expected within the next couple of weeks.

The prolonged and extensive search for a new location for the rest stop has illustrated the difficulties the nearly three-year pilot program has had in assuaging concerns about the legal homeless camps.

City officials have acknowledged that finding a site that meets the requirements of the authorizing ordinance and minimizes possible impacts on neighboring residents and businesses has “proved challenging.”

“This generous offer from the Mission allows us the time to help build understanding and confidence in the rest stop program as we continue to work on multiple approaches to addressing the challenge of homelessness with our social service agency and government partners,” Ruiz said in his statement.


With the move, all five city-sanctioned rest stops will be located on or within about a half-mile of the Mission property in Ward 7, represented by Councilor Claire Syrett. The nonprofit group Community Supported Shelters operates the other four rest stops, including a veterans camp on the Mission property.

Last week, the City Council selected two final sites for the rest stop, and authorized Ruiz to make the final selection after further vetting. The City Council is on its summer recess. The ordinance allowing the rest stops requires council approval of their locations, and it was unclear Thursday whether separate approval was required since another rest stop already exists at the Mission.

Ruiz initially selected what’s been called the Lone Oak site, a future park site east of the Santa Clara Fred Meyer shopping center, after ruling out the other potential site near West 13th Avenue and Bailey Hill Road.

City staff had told the councilors before their authorization that they looked at hundreds of potential locations before narrowing them down.

Michael Kinnison, manager of the city’s human rights and neighborhood involvement office, said at the time that staffers intentionally excluded sites within Ward 7 because it “already shoulders a lot of that burden for our community.” (The Lone Oak site straddles or is just within the Ward 7 boundary.) Syrett said Thursday the city’s announcement puts her in an “awkward position” because while she remains a big supporter of the rest stop pilot program, she understands her ward is disproportionately affected by it.

Syrett said she’s received no complaints about the rest stops in her ward, although she has heard from homeless advocates who have criticized their location next to or near a major rail line as inhumane.

“The impact of this move is negligible, but in symbolic terms it’s important,” she said. Syrett said making the program permanent would allow city staff members to identify potential sites in the other seven wards and offer public education and outreach ahead of time to ease residents’ concerns about the camps. Eighty-three of the 214 people who stayed at a rest stop last year moved to some form of more stable housing, such as moving into an apartment, staying with friends on a temporary or permanent basis, or relocating to subsidized or transitional housing, according to a recent city report. The Mission’s offer to temporarily accommodate the rest stop came despite a fire in June that did extensive damage to its kitchen.

The Mission continues to serve 800 meals a day from a mobile kitchen while its insurer evaluates its claim, said Pat Walsh, a spokesman for the mission.

Investigators determined that improperly stored rags spontaneously caught fire. Ruiz said it’s “truly amazing” for the Mission to provide a temporary home for the rest stop, given the damage from the fire. “We greatly appreciate this wonderful partnership with the Mission and their work to help our most vulnerable residents get on, and stay on, a path to wellness,” he said. The city said campers at the rest stop would have access to all the Mission’s facilities and services, including food, clothing, showers, case management and counseling, if requested.

The Mission’s executive director, Jack Tripp, said in a statement that it remains “committed to wellness and being a catalyst to ending homelessness in Eugene.”

The rest stop must move because the county owns the MLK site and separately leases it out for use as paid parking during University of Oregon home football games.

A Boy Scouts troop based in Eugene has secured that lease to manage the parking the past several years and last year contributed $240,000 to support two county departments as part of the arrangement.

In addition, county health officials have recommended that the rest stop change locations every six months to minimize the risk of illness and disease among campers.

It’s possible the rest stop could return to the MLK location after its six-month stay at the mission.

While there’s no formal agreement in place for the rest stop’s return, Lane County spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said “we’re still committed to participating in the program.”

“This generous offer from the Mission allows us the time to help build understanding and confidence in the rest stop program as we continue to work on multiple approaches to addressing the challenge of homelessness with our social service agency and government partners.”

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