The City has been working throughout the pandemic to balance the needs of people experiencing homelessness to have a safe place to sleep. The goal has always been to slow the spread of COVID-19, and work inside of guidance of the CDC, Oregon Health Authority, and Lane County Public Health which calls for limiting the movement of people throughout the community. In order to support this public health effort, the City has adjusted its processes around urban camping while continuing to create and search for new shelter options. At this time however, many people experiencing homelessness are residing in Eugene’s parks and right of way areas.
Since the beginning of COVID the City has used three basic principles when evaluating camps:
- Health and safety – sites that pose health and safety issues for the housed and unhoused communities – including degradation of the environment.
- Location – near playgrounds, sports fields and paths, sites that block public access to properties, sidewalks, paths or roads, or limit ADA accessibility, as well as sites that block park facilities and paths.
- Criminal behavior – trespassing or known criminal activity.
As COVID spread more broadly in our community over the past six weeks, we’ve adjusted our processes around urban camping. These new processes included specific criteria when identifying camps that may need to be cleared and cleaned. The intent is to provide the information to campers so they can clearly understand the expectations and allow them the opportunity to come into compliance. If they can meet the criteria, they would be allowed to stay. This work coincides with the City increasing its own ability to provide more outreach and compliance assistance to people who are camping.
As for specific camping in Westmoreland Park, this is tied to the campers who were in the right-of-way on 18th Avenue. Out of safety concerns, Public Works asked those campers to move from their adjacent location into the park temporarily. One of the criteria for camping in our parks is not being within 300 feet of playgrounds, sports courts, park shelters, and microsite and Rest Stop locations. Because these campers are within 300 feet of the new Rest Stop, the City will be working with these campers to find them a new place to be outside of Westmoreland Park before the rest stop opens. Due to the rest stop and new microsite in Westmoreland and the disc golf sports field, in the future there will likely not be any spots in the park that can accommodate temporary camping during COVID.
You also shared your frustrations with the lack of transparency about this process. We continue to be in a transition phase as we pilot these new criteria, which I’ve shared below.
Where camping is not permitted in parks
- All parks designated as neighborhood parks (For details www.eugene-or.gov/327/Parks-and-Natural-Area).
- Please note that Washington-Jefferson Park is categorized as a metro park versus a neighborhood park.
- Riparian areas such as along the Willamette River and Amazon Creek.
- Wetlands such as Delta Ponds and the West Eugene Wetlands.
- High quality natural areas such as the Whilamut Natural Area.
- The City’s vegetated stormwater facilities that are designed to filter and clean water
- Within 300 feet of playgrounds, sports courts, park shelters and City of Eugene Rest Stop locations.
- Within 50 feet of private property.
Campers in these areas are issued a 24-hour notice of clean up.
COVID-19 public health criteria for temporary camping in parks
Outside of the not-permitted sites, a camp needs to meet these criteria to stay-in place:
- Camp site supports public health and safety by following physical distancing guidelines:
- Tents are 12 feet apart from individuals not in the camper’s household.
- It is possible for the public to reasonably maintain six feet of distance from the person camping and their property at all times.
- Camp maintains public access to sidewalks, paths, transit stations, restrooms or building entrances.
- Camp maintains clean and healthy spaces with no significant garbage or debris.
- Camp is safe with no evidence of conspicuous drug use: uncapped, used hypodermic needles or other paraphernalia that could be a health hazard to other community members.
- There are no Eugene Police Department verified reports of criminal behavior.
- Camp site is not negatively impacting properties adjacent to parks.
- Camp site is not negatively affecting nearby business activities.
- Camp site is not disturbing vegetation.
- Camp site is not damaging or preventing maintenance of park infrastructure.
For those that do not meet the above criteria, the City will issue a 48-hour warning notice. The notice provides clear information about what needs to be corrected to meet accepted criteria. City staff will visit the site no sooner than 48 hours later, and if the site is in compliance, the camp site will be allowed to remain. For ODOT leased park lands like Washington Jefferson, if the criteria have not been met, the camp will be posted for cleanup no sooner than 10 days and no later than 19 days per ODOT requirements.