Oregon homeless protest site may be closed, cleaned

EUGENE, Ore. — Lane County officials are considering temporarily closing a courthouse plaza dedicated to free speech where advocates for the homeless began camping two weeks ago.

The county’s health officer says the risk of disease transmission is too high, and the plaza should be cleaned up, the Eugene Register-Guard reported Friday.

Officials call it an emergency closure that would likely last about a month, while the county commissioners consider reducing the area protesters could use by making only a part of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza a “designated free speech area.”

The plaza is named for the longtime Oregon member of the U.S. Senate and a champion of free speech causes.

The protesters say Eugene lacks legal camping areas for homeless people.

The paper said county officials expressed growing frustration with the protest, and constituents are urging them to act.

The county’s public health officer, Dr. Patrick Luedtke, toured the plaza Thursday and a strip of land across the street that campers have also occupied.

“The level of disease transmission risk (in the two areas) has exceeded my level of comfort,” he said. “It would be beneficial at this time to thoroughly clean the area in order to best protect the current occupants as well as other citizens. In addition, a rotating schedule to clean the grounds, should they again be occupied, is in the best interest of the public’s health.”

Commissioner Jay Bozievich sent the Register-Guard photos taken by county staff members that appear to show individuals urinating and defecating in the area.

The group goes by the acronym SLEEPS. A member, Alley Valkyrie, called the proposed closure and ordinance ridiculous.

“They’re trying to rewrite the rules again because they don’t want to deal with the real issue: thousands of homeless people living in their county,” she said. “The commissioners are tired of hearing about it from constituents who don’t want to see the real problem every day in their downtown. I’m embarrassed to be part of this community.”

She said the lack of public restrooms in Eugene means that there “likely isn’t a park in the city limits without human feces in it…. If that’s the criteria, they should close down every single park as well.”

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