Eugene City Councilor Ward 8

Pursuit of Safe Sleep sites a costly, fraught proposition

07 November 2021

 Randy Groves

Comment from Councilor Groves: This article does a good job of explaining Eugene's Safe Sleep Site concept, the associated costs, and the challenges with finding contractors, working with supply chain limitations, finding site management resources and hearing concerns from people connected to adjoining properties. To our friends who are county residents and claim that this is a "Eugene problem," which I hear frequently, please note that the first camp occupant profiled in this article is a woman who was displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire. She is from unincorporated Lane County. Based on my discussions with campers, residents, businesses, workers, my responder colleagues and my past experience as a responder, most are from somewhere other than Eugene! This is a regional, state and national problem and we should be receiving help from outside of our city.

Not to pick on the woman from Blue River, and she has my deepest sympathy, but when I voted as a city councilor to approve the five Safe Sleep Sites being developed, I thought I was voting to approve space for people who are indigent and living on our streets, in our parks and publics spaces. People who have nothing and nowhere to go. This woman says she is paying on a property in La Pine Oregon. What? The Safe Sites are NOT intended for those seeking a less expensive life style and wish to save money, they are intended for those who truly cannot afford to go anywhere else.

While we have to get people off of our streets for the health and welfare of our entire community, including the unhoused, the cost of providing these spaces and meeting the requirements imposed by our federal courts is staggering and NOT sustainable if cities like Eugene are expected to shoulder the load alone.

Finally, a personal beef with our local media. In every article I've read on our unhoused problem, the focus seems to primarily be on Washington/Jefferson Park and the encampment on W. 13th Avenue. While these areas are most definitely problem areas, there is nary a comment about the hundreds of RVs, trailers and campers filling the streets of West Eugene where some of the worst crime is taking place. There is also a dearth of reporting on the problems still plaguing our downtown and the Whiteaker neighborhood. To any reporter reading this post, please step away from your desk, go out into our community and take a look! If you cannot find your way to West Eugene, call me and I will personally pick you up and take you for a tour! I can show you the problem up close. I can also show you streets that have been cleared and cleaned and talk about the positive impact on businesses and workers in those locations. Businesses that had let their properties decline and were looking to relocate. But after clearing and cleaning, many have reinvested in their businesses and the jobs they create for our community. Some who were ready to leave have now even talked about expansion. Sadly though, many streets are still in terrible shape and some businesses have already left or are still leaving because they have lost faith in our City and our system.

Please stay informed on this work, help where you can, and raise your voice so that you are heard and counted as to what you believe to be the right thing. I also ask that you become informed so that you understand the limitations placed on your local governments as you judge their performance. I for one feel like we have had these challenges thrust upon us, over years, and many of the possible solutions have been removed from the table without our input.

Pursuit of Safe Sleep sites a costly, fraught proposition

$1.4 million, more than a dozen contracts: What it takes to set up, operate overnight areas

Megan Banta Eugene Register-Guard | USA TODAY NETWORK

It took months of work and more than $500,000 to get Eugene's first Safe Sleep site ready for people to live there. Now it will cost nearly $900,000 more to operate the location in the first 18 months of use. hThousands went into compacting tons of rock to level the site, striping parking spots, extending electricity, installing fences and more before the first site on Garfield Street opened last month, based on contracts The Register-Guard obtained through a public records request. The city also will pay thousands more each month for St. Vincent de Paul to run the site. hSetting up the Safe Sleep sites — areas people with nowhere else to go can legally sleep in vehicles, tents or other structures — has taken months longer than officials and staff initially expected as the coronavirus pandemic exacerbates the city's homelessness crisis.

Officials approved two sites in July and three more in September, but just one has opened as the rainy season sets in.

There have been various delays, from demands on contractors to supply chain issues to negotiations with service providers, said Kelly McIver, who handles communications on Eugene’s unhoused response.

Though each site is different, the work the city put into the site on Garfield and the concept in general “will pay dividends in the future,” McIver said.

The city has several takeaways from getting the first site ready for use and early stages of work on other sites, he said, with one of the biggest being a need for service providers who can scale up in size to operate a Safe Sleep site.

Katherine Nodine watches as a vehicle is towed past her camping spot in a new Safe Sleep site in Eugene. Displaced after the Holiday Farm Fire destroyed her home near Blue River, Nodine joined other residents in the new city-sanctioned spot while she makes payments on a piece of property near LaPine. PHOTOS BY CHRIS PIETSCH/THE REGISTER-GUARD

Campers have begun to move into the new Safe Sleep site on Garfield Street between West Second Avenue and the Union Pacific railroad tracks in Eugene.

Staff also are seeing the importance of authentic and thorough community engagement, McIver said, through efforts to set up an approved site in a neighborhood park near Autzen Stadium.

Neighbors there, though, say the city hasn’t been transparent, and they feel like they’re being cast as the enemy for having concerns about the precedent of turning a park people use into a Safe Sleep site.

City officials and staff continue to work to create more Safe Sleep sites and get approved locations ready for use.

Contracts for work totaled around $512,000

Eugene officials approved the Safe Sleep site at 310 Garfield St. in July. At that time, they expected it to open by the end of August.

The city and Lane Transit District, which owns the site, signed a lease on the 5-acre property in late August. The city can renew the 18-month lease four times for one year each if needed and wouldn’t start paying until the second renewal.

City leaders also signed various contracts to complete work on the site between late August and early September.

Under those agreements, the city paid around $512,300 to a handful of contractors: 

  • $130,600 to Twin Rivers for plumbing 
  • $117,130 to RiverBend Construction for grading and compacting 4,420 tons of quarry rock
  • $74,950 to Island Fence for chain-link fence with two gates
  • $57,870 to American Carports for supplying and installing metal structures
  • $11,300 to Paverite for striping and marking, walkways, curb stops and reflectors on sticks
  • $9,099 to EWEB for electric extension h$3,500 to Island Fence under a contract amendment for double drive gate and posts
  • $2,950 to Island Fence under a contract amendment for blue privacy screen on north side of propertyLess than two weeks before the location was ready for use on Oct. 4, the city also signed a contract with St. Vincent de Paul to operate the Safe Sleep site.

'Happened pretty fast and went pretty well'

Even before city leadership signed most of those agreements, officials expressed concern in September that residents — especially those around the temporary urban camps at Washington Jefferson Park and at 13th Avenue and Chambers Street — are reaching a breaking point.

Staff understands the worry over the wait for sites to open, McIver said, though he also pointed out the site on Garfield was ready for people to move their recreation vehicles into spots less than two months after the city got access to the site.

All things considered, he said, the process “happened pretty fast and went pretty well. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some hiccups and learning points, he acknowledged.

Some of the delay was because of the “idiosyncrasies” of the site, he said. For example, crews ran into remnants of past demolition that hadn’t been entirely dealt with.

There also were delivery delays for metal structures and other supply-chain issues, he said, like a “good number” of solar lights arriving broken.

For people who regularly deal with projects, McIver said, it might have felt like nothing.

“But when you have the pressure of trying to stand something up to provide relief to a community in crisis … every little thing that didn’t go perfectly feels like a big deal,” he said.

Provider has numerous responsibilities under contract

One thing has become more clear through the process of setting up the Safe Sleep sites, McIver said — there’s a need in the community for service providers with the capacity for managing large sites.

It’s not hard to see people working in the outreach and service provider world are stretched thin, he said.

“Unfortunately, we are learning that we’re facing a huge amount of need and a dearth of service providers who have the ability to step in,” he said.

There aren’t very many organizations that “can scale up to the level that we’re talking about with these (sites),” McIver said, and the city wouldn’t want to create a contract that might set a service provider up for failure.

Currently, he said, St. Vincent de Paul and Square-One Villages seem to be the only two organizations that have the capacity and willingness to take on a contract with the city to operate a Safe Sleep site.

Based on the contract for the first site, service providers at other sites would have several responsibilities as part of an agreement with the city.

The city fulfilled the lion's share of its requirements under the Garfield site contract, most of which involved work to prepare the site. St Vincent de Paul has dozens of ongoing responsibilities under the contract, including:

  • Accepting applicants into the program, maintaining a waitlist and having a fair process for intake and screening and prioritizing spaces for vehicles that have been illegally parked in west Eugene. There cannot be more than 60 vehicles for sleeping at the site at any one time.
  • Providing on-site supervision 24/7
  • Monitoring and managing who enters the site and making people only enter through designated access points and park only in designated spaces
  • Providing positive engagement and support for residents and ensuring staff are trained in trauma-informed care, crisis de-escalation and other practices to support people experiencing homelessness h Participating in biweekly meetings to coordinate care for program participants
  • Monitoring fencing to make sure it’s secure and is clear of graffiti, garbage and “unwanted activity” and notifying the city within one business day if there’s fence damage
  • Maintaining a designed point of contact for afterhour emergency needs
  • Arranging for adequate waste management and toilet facilities
  • Developing and getting city approval for policies and procedures concerning site upkeep, heating, water management, waste management, pest management and illness prevention
  • Maintaining necessary supplies for the site including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, Naloxone kits, dog waste bags and equipment for common spaces
  • Providing maintenance and upkeep for grounds unless there’s a need for major repairs
  • Following public health guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19
  • Immediately terminating participation of any person who engages in illegal activity or activity that compromises public safety
  • Prohibiting various activities at the site, including weapons, illegal activity, disruptive noise, overnight visitors, physical violence and use of fencing for structures or tarps of other items
  • Ensuring dogs and cats are allowed under certain conditions and allowing no more than 15 dogs on site
  • Providing site rules and fire safety information to residents during intake and visibly posting that information
  • Maintaining clear and documented processes for discipline, grievance and appeals and request for accommodation
  • Responding to concerns and complaints arising from activities at the sites and problem-solving with the city to address issues
  • Utilizing the county’s Homeless Management Information System and providing quarterly reports that include information about number of people served, demographics, length of stay and where people go after leaving
  • Ensuring people leave within a day of whenever
  • Purchasing a utility vehicle for staff to use to move around the site
  • Prohibiting non-resident access to the site unless there’s prior approval

Complying with fire safety recommendations Under that agreement, St. Vincent de Paul is receiving $894,500 over 18 months to run the site. That includes one-time costs of $16,650 and ongoing costs for personnel, maintenance, and other operational costs estimated at $48,765 per month. After that, the contract terminates.

'People are using this park'

So far, McIver said, the city hasn’t been able to find a provider who could fulfill those same kinds of responsibilities at Chase Commons park, the other site approved in July.

That doesn’t surprise neighbors in the area around the neighborhood park, who say a contractor would inherit the city’s problems on the site.

Plans call for the park just blocks from Autzen Stadium in the Harlow neighborhood to house up to 20 Conestoga huts.

The shift from a neighborhood park to Safe Sleep site was a surprise to neighbors, including Mike McFarlane, who learned about the park being a possible site from the news.

He went door-to-door after learning the park might become a site and said no one else within two blocks knew about it. In conversations he’s had since, maybe 5% to 10% of people have expressed support for the site.

That isn’t to say there’s no support for similar sites, McFarlane said, but people don’t want to lose their neighborhood park.

“People are using this park,” he said. “Though it’s undeveloped, it’s where people walk their dogs. It is a community neighborhood park.”

Gateway Gardens, a memory care facility across the street, has similar concerns.

When the company that owns Gateway Gardens, which operates other senior living facilities in the area, looks at sites, it looks at zoning and future land uses, said Barbara Britt, the residential care facility’s chief financial officer.

Gateway Gardens has invested in the community for 30 years, Britt said, and residents have chosen the location for a reason.

“Now the city has kind of pulled the rug out from under us on that score,” she said.

The amenities in the area — including the park — are important for residents because they “have very limited ability to go out into the world,” Britt said.

Family members of residents have said they’re going to move their loved ones to another facility if plans for the site go through, Britt said.

And logistically, she said, the site just isn’t a good one, especially because Commons Drive is a “serpentine and narrow” street.

The site also doesn’t offer easier access to any services, McFarlane said.

Neighbors have aired those concerns in various ways, including a meeting with officials and staff, messages, calls and one-on-one conversations.

The dialogue so far hasn’t been good, Britt said, and the city’s attitude “seems to be that we just don’t understand.”

It’s not that area residents don’t want a Safe Sleep site nearby, McFarlane said — they’re supportive of the nearby Parking Lot 9 rest stop off Leo Harris Parkway.The second they express opposition, though, they’re “painted as anti-homeless,” he said.

'Early in the curve' for outreach on sites with newer approval

City officials and staff didn’t have to do much outreach for the first site since it’s in an industrial area, McIver said, but they’ve learned from outreach for the site at Chase Commons.

That site is a unique case, he added. There are no plans he knows of for Safe Sleep sites in other parks.

But conversations with neighbors have made it clear it’s important to have the service provider be part of the outreach, he said, as residents ask about plans and standards for the sites.

“The neighbors really want to hear from the people who are going to be providing oversight,” McIver said.

So far, he said, the city is “early in the curve” for outreach at three other approved sites:

  • A 3.3-acre site at 2243 Roosevelt Blvd., owned by SquareOne Villages, that could expand from six pallet shelters to 40 total sleeping units.
  • EveryOne Village, a 3.55-acre site just north of the intersection of Dani and Janisse streets, that likely will be a mix of vehicles and small shelters.
  • Another site on Garfield just south of the site that's open. The site at 410 Garfield St. has a 27,300square-foot building that could hold up to 90 tent spaces and an area outside that could serve as space for Conestoga huts, pallet shelters or vehicles.

There’s been some engagement around Dani Street and Roosevelt Boulevard, but the outreach so far is limited, McIver said.

As the city continues to do outreach, he said, staff are trying to make sure it’s authentic and thorough.

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at mbanta@registerguard.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Register-Guard 11/7/2021

Randy Groves