EUGENE, Ore. — Authorities have broken up a 3-week-old tent village established to protest the lack of legal camping spots for homeless people in Eugene.
It was the second time authorities have moved against the protesters at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the county courthouse.
Protesters there were accused of defying a curfew in January. But a judge last month threw out trespassing citations, and the “camp-in” began shortly afterward.
On Wednesday afternoon, after the county board gave the go-ahead, police ordered the campers to disperse and gave trespassing citations to four people who refused to leave. Protesters said they would challenge the action in court.
The commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to close the plaza, have it cleaned, reopen it for day use in about a week and work on permanent restrictions, the Eugene Register-Guard reported.
The board proposes to rename the free speech plaza a “terrace” and designate a “free speech area” in a circle where stands a statue of Morse, a longtime iconoclastic U.S. senator from Oregon who was a champion of free speech causes.
The plaza would be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., camping and related activities would be banned, and no uses that interfere with people entering or leaving the county’s public service building would be allowed.
The county’s health officer, Dr. Patrick Luedtke, reported he toured the camp last week. He said he saw 30 campers but only 14 tents, and noticed partly consumed food scattered in the area and the smell of urine and feces.
He also reported the single food tent was stocked and well-organized and dogs in the camp were well-behaved and on leashes.
Protesters said they regularly cleaned the area and tried to police behavior, and noted the sanitation issues resulted from a lack of public restrooms.
Three portable toilets were put in for the camp, two paid for by Eugene and one by the protesters, who call themselves SLEEPS, for Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep.
Commissioner Pat Farr said the camp was inhibiting people’s use of county buildings, and its closure was “narrowly tailored to address a specific harm.”
“Nobody wants to inhibit free speech,” he said.
Commissioner Pete Sorenson voted against removing the tent village, saying freedom of speech and assembly “outweigh the inconvenience caused by the protest.” Violations such as public defecation, assault, and drug dealing should be dealt with individually rather than breaking up the camp.