The Campers Make Some Headway in Eugene

NIMBYism in Eugene

By Bridget Reilly

             Although it appeared now that the tide was turning for me and John and some of the other “squeaky wheels,” the NIMBY bigotry continued to make itself felt.  On August 20th a rather nasty rebuttal to our letter appeared in the Register-Guard.  It was along the lines of “They want a handout; they just want a free ride. “Of course this was no surprise.  People of that mentality would no doubt continue spouting that crap about us till dooms day despite tons of evidence to the contrary.  They would never be wiling to open their minds and learn, nor would they ever care how their attitudes affected our lives and our relationships.

             In any case, I did accelerate the process of going for my driver’s permit.  I finished reading the DMV manual and went ahead and took the exam, and to my surprise, I passed!  It was much easier than I’d thought it would be.  So I promptly wrote John a letter telling him this bit of news, starting out with “OK. Slave driver…”

             And on the morning of August 22 he was back.  He’d had enough of being alone by this time and decided there were enough reasons to give the relationship another try.  So at this point we more or less picked up where we had left off before, resuming the “24-hour Shuffle.”  The sensation was somewhat like that of treading water while we were waiting to hear from Mac about our legal parking spaces being ready.

             John decided it was time for us to quit this particular area; he had found another industrial street closer in town that had a port-a-potty we could use.  So we took off and re-parked our rigs on Wilson Street.

             For the remainder of August into September we did a few new routine of shuffling around to four different streets in this area, and continued to encounter new pairs of dirty eyeballs every time we moved.  Then one morning a man came out of the building we were in front of and wrote down our license numbers.

             But no, they were NOT going to get us this time!  I proceeded to the nearest pay phone and called Mac, and was greeted with the happy news that my space was ready for me in the parking lot of the Public works department. YES!

             Mac came down that evening to where we were parked on Wilson Street and wrote out permits for both of us.  There were three spaces set aside for campers at the west end of that parking lot, so Mac agreed to let me and john have two of them side-by-side.  It was not September 16th.

             This was certainly a time for rejoicing, for celebrating the sweet harvest we were finally gathering after having fought the good fight all those years!  At last we had accomplished the goal of getting a legal place to park our homes, and without the 24-hour babysitters and excessive radio noise we’d had at the Centennial Car Camp of 1993-95.  This program was much simpler and less expensive, providing a toilet and trash can at each end of the scattered sites, and paying a salary only to Mac who had been a friend since Armitage days.  At last, a program that was better tailored to fit our real needs and didn’t treat us like children or insult our intelligence and dignity, but only gave us the basics that we needed and deserved without wasting money or unneeded supervision or putting unrealistic requirements and time limits on us!

             Mac was the best-qualified person for the job of Program Coordinator, and was happy and gratified that he was finally able to do some good for homeless people who had earned it.  Furthermore, he was “one of us.”  He was not one of those paternalistic service providers who treat the homeless like children while secretly despising them for their “errant “ ways.  He was a free spirit who had been homeless in the past himself, and was interested in protecting our constitutional rights rather than “correcting” our lifestyles.  He also had the political experience and expert mediating skills that enable him to perform the often trying and stress-ridden job of keeping peace between the cops, property owners and homeless.  This type of facilitating position was a brand-new invention, and he was handling it like a pro.

             Now at last John and I could let our guards down and have a shot at creating a happy life together, without that stress factor aggravating the relationship.  And the summer dog days were finally over; it was cooling off and starting to rain a little, and John was looking forward to the mushroom season.  I was to find that he is happiest in the fall when he’s out gathering mushrooms in his beloved woods. He was free to drive out there whenever he chose to and his space would still be waiting for him when he cam back.  And I was free to continue my writing in peace without constantly looking over my shoulder at every passing car.

             All well and good for us.  But the majority of the homeless campers were still out on the streets and there still weren’t enough legal spaces for them to move to.  The pressure was on for Mack to help move as many people as possible into city-sanctioned sites by the October 1st deadline.  On the last day of September, he was out in the 7th and Bertelson area where John and I had first met and where a large number of people were still camped.  He was prepared to tow trailers and non-mobile vehicles with his pickup truck to the sites they had been assigned.  He was also in a last-minute scramble to get more spaces open up.  And as a last resort, for all the people who would still be stuck with out a legal place to go on October 1st.  Mack would employ his mediating skills to try and appease the disgruntled business owners to persuade them not to call the cops right away.  It was hoped that they would be patient while the remaining campers were waiting for a place to move, and realize that Mac was doing his absolute best with the limited amount of time and spaces that he had been given.  It was also hoped that everyone would remain cool in the interim, so there wouldn’t be any more violent incidents to give someone an excuse to bring in the cops.  And all the while there were on going appeals for more churches and business owners to open their parking lots to a few campers and homeowners to let people camp in their driveways and back yards.  There was more than enough space in the city for everyone, if people would jus to pen their hearts and give up those foolish and self-defeating NIBY attitudes.

             By this time Mac was working a 16-hour day.  But no matter how hard he tried; this was still like a musical-chairs game in which many hopeless people would be left out.  And for these people the prospects were grim indeed.  As of October 1st they had been officially re-defined a criminals, facing fines of up to $500 and jail terms of up to 10 days while their rigs were impounded – all for the crime of being homeless vehicle-dwellers on the street!

             There was obviously no sense or justice in this new two-tiered arrangement.  It was merely the city’s latest craven attempt to appease the most vocal homeless advocates while also giving the property and business owners what they’d been screaming for.  The remainders of the homeless, as always, were mere pawns who would inevitably get scrunched.  John and I now were enjoying the benefits of being among the “favored” homeless, but we would never forget the agony of living like fugitives on the streets.  We hoped that this new program would provide a positive example to be more widely imitated, so that the agony could end for all the homeless everywhere.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 42 May-June 2000