Eugene City Councilor Ward 8

Setting strong foundations

05 October 2021

 Randy Groves


A look at Eugene’s first Safe Sleep site

Megan Banta Eugene Register-Guard | USA TODAY NETWORK

What was just a big field and concrete lot on Garfield Street is now open as Eugene’s first Safe Sleep site. h The city has been working to develop the site, one of five approved so far, and others since the spring. h Safe Sleep sites are areas where people can legally stay while having access to services. They’re owned or leased by the city and will be run by social service organizations.

h St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, which is running the Safe Sleep site that opened Monday on Garfield Street between West Second Avenue and the Union Pacific railroad tracks, expects it to fill soon.

The new site will help a portion of the city’s unhoused population find stability as part of the community’s broader efforts to address homelessness, said Terry McDonald, the organization’s executive director.

“All of this is a step on a journey that we are on as to how to deal with a chronic social problem,” he said.

City officials and the community as a whole have been eager to see Safe Sleep sites open for use, said Regan Watjus, a policy analyst of homelessness for the city.

Yet while seeing people start to use the site will be exciting, the impact on people is what city leaders really are looking forward to, she said.

“This is the physical piece. The human piece is what we’re really excited about,” Watjus said. “We’re really excited for the stability it’s going to bring folks … and how it’s going to improve people’s lives.”

The City Council has approved five sites in total, including three last week.

Staff are “working hard to get those up as soon as possible,” Watjus said.

The sites are only authorized through May 2023, and will need to be approved again to continue operating past that.

Terry McDonald of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County tours the city of Eugene's first Safe Sleep site open now at 310 Garfield St. CHRIS PIETSCH/THE REGISTER-GUARD

‘Full-ish’ by Wednesday The site on Garfield Street is nestled between parking lots and industrial sites.

It’s bordered by parking for Lane Transit District’s RideSource buses to the north, Garfield Street to the east, Union Pacific tracks and a large warehouse to the south and Arcimoto to the west.

There’s fencing around the entirety of the property, which has been leveled out and striped to accommodate up to 55 vehicles. Contractors dropped and compacted 4,350 tons of gravel to ready the site, a city spokesperson said.

As of Monday morning, 44 recreational vehicles and 10 other vehicles were set to start arriving, said Roxann O’Brien, director of homeless and emergency services for St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.

Almost all of the people or families bringing an RV onto the site have another vehicle, she said, and everyone will be allotted a secondary space for now even if they don’t have a second vehicle.

The Safe Sleep site should be “fullish” by Wednesday, O’Brien said.

There already are four people on a waitlist, she said.

Amenities, community space

People at the site will have access to various amenities.

There will be trash service, portable restrooms and handwashing stations, Watjus said.

While the city hopes people use the portable restrooms as much as possible, she said, there is a dump station near Garfield Street and there will be portable wastewater tanks.

Concrete pads on the site will serve as common spaces once there are structures in place.

Those common areas will have electricity, water for people to use and a heat source during the winter, Watjus said, and could be a place for people to have meetings with service providers.

Electricity will not be available for each individual vehicle.

Kelly McIver, who manages communications on the city’s unhoused response, said the common spaces also will provide an area where people can start building connections.

Those connections are important to help people stabilize, Watjus said.

“It’s just human nature to have human connection as part of your stability,” she said.

‘Low barrier’ with signed guest agreement

The site is low barrier, Watjus said, but there will be rules focused on ensuring health and safety.

People will sign a guest agreement during the intake process, she said.

That will include some basic things like agreeing not to be violent or threaten others, not to commit any crimes and not to have weapons, she said.

Beyond the physical parameter of the fence, the site also will generally be organized and have parameters, McDonald said.

Someone from St. Vincent de Paul will be on site 24/7, he said, and there will be limited access with people checking in and out at a gate so the organization can supervise who’s in the site as much as possible.

People will be able to keep four items — for example, a grill, two chairs and a cooler — outside their vehicle but will not be able to store food outside, O’Brien said.

‘There will be success stories’

The main goal of the site on Garfield Street and the other Safe Sleep sites is to give people a place they know they can be, Watjus said.

At other alternative shelter sites, such as rest stops, officials “have seen how important stability is,” she said.

“Having a stable place to be gives you a foundation,” she said.

For some, the site might be the only stability they can get, McDonald said, but there will be others who are able to use it to build a foundation and move on.

“There will be success stories out of here,” he said.

There’s no one fit for helping people out of homelessness, he said, because there are multiple barriers to people getting stable housing on their own.

The site that opened Monday is one piece of the solution, McDonald and Watjus said.

There’s a “systemic societal failure in terms of how we deal with vulnerable populations,” McDonald said, and everyone needs to help address it with humanity and compassion.

“It does take a village to deal with a social problem like this,” he said.

What’s next?

The city learned lessons that will be helpful in getting the other Safe Sleep sites ready for use, Watjus said.

So far, officials have approved four more:

h Chase Commons, a neighborhood park on the northeast side of Eugene, that could house up to 20 Conestoga huts.

h 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

h 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.

h Another site on Garfield just south of the site that opened Monday. The site at 410 Garfield St. has a 27,300-square-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.

Staff are working to get those ready for use as soon as possible, Watjus said.

Once each site is ready for use, she said, the city is prioritizing moving people from temporary, city-sanctioned sites in Washington-Jefferson Park and at the intersection of West 13th Avenue and Chambers Street.

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

Regan Watjus of the city of Eugene tours the city's first Safe Sleep site open now at 310 Garfield St.


Copyright © 2021 The Register-Guard 10/5/2021

Randy Groves