Demonstrators against Eugene hosting the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 gathered Saturday night, claiming leaders have prioritized beautifying the city for the event’s thousands of guests instead of focusing on issues like homelessness.
At least 50 demonstrators gathered at Campbell Park for the event organized by local activists with signs that read “Survival Over Sports” and “Rich Play Workers Suffer.”
The group walked toward 5th Street Public Market shouting chants like “No housing, no peace” and “If they can house the sports elite, they can stop death on the street,” briefly blocking traffic in some streets. The group stopped in front of Nike, criticizing the sports giant and capitalism.
“Rent has gone up and now there’s just no place that homeless people are allowed to be,“ said Anya Dobrowolski, an organizer with Stop the Sweeps Eugene. “It’s really clear there’s a cause-and-effect thing going on here.”
It’s not the first demonstration against the world championships. The slogan “100s displaced for your little race” can be found around the city, alluding to when Eugene closed sanctioned camp sites months ago.
The city is adamant the closure of the camps and other actions are unrelated to the World Athletics Championships and the Olympic Trials, as both had to be rescheduled due to the pandemic.
“… there was no certainty that the events would be able to happen at rescheduled times,” City spokeswoman Cambra Ward Jacobson said in an email to The Register-Guard. “The city’s unhoused response was proceeding regardless of the status of those events.”
In March, the city closed its last remaining sanctioned camping spot at Washington Jefferson Park. The city also closed the park for restoration. At the same time, Eugene returned to regular enforcement of the city’s camping ban after lifting orders related to the pandemic. For about a year, the park had served as a city-sanctioned place for homeless people to stay.
“The city’s unsanctioned camping activity since that time has been entirely based on responding to the requests of the community to address access, safety, health and sanitation and livability issues,” Ward Jacobson said. “Unsanctioned campsites are removed as staff capacity allows, consistent with city code and park rules, and that will continue after WCH Oregon22 ends.”
For Lane County’s 4,286 people experiencing homelessness, there’s not enough safe and legal places to go. While city officials share that more spots are opening in the near future — including 60 more safe sleep site spots, the 75-bed navigation center and the 45-bed permanent supportive housing complex The Nel — as it stands, there’s about 455 drop-in shelter spots in the county and about 900 people currently sit on waitlists for the city’s safe sleep sites.
Dylan Weil, who cofounded the youth-focused street outreach organization CORE, said it appears people have been pushed further outside downtown, the areas surrounding the University of Oregon and the riverfront. He said that every time this happens, clients get lost.
“It’s a constant thing we’re up against in our field here,” Weil said. “And it’s difficult because it furthers the divide between social services, law enforcement, local government and the community at large. It really conveys conflicting messages.”
The city is dealing with “strong and varied” opinions about how to handle homelessness, Ward Jacobson said.
“While we understand that some community members advocate for a change in city rules and practices to allow people to camp in public, many in the community have expressed strong desires for faster and more lasting responses to unsanctioned camping and its impacts,” she said.
Weil said the frustration some feel is around what the city prioritizes.
“I think it’s fairly obvious and clear that they’ve invested millions in beautifying the city and making it appealing to visitors rather than taking care of the people living in it,” Weil said. “It really comes down to priorities.”
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at [email protected] or 541-521-7512, and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.