The caravan of cars circles around City Manager Sarah Medary’s house for a second time at around 7:30 pm, their horns blaring as the demonstrators place a coffin in front of her driveway and cover it with fake candles and flowers.
“We are trying to help her understand that gatekeeping resources leads to actual humans dying. There seems to be a reality of people from privilege — homeowners, business owners don’t see unhoused people as human beings,” organizer Erin says, who goes by her first name for fear of being doxxed — having her name, address and other contact information shared on social media for possible retribution.
This action was organized by Stop Death on the Streets, a network of local individuals who advocate for housing and to end the harassment of the unhoused across Eugene. Though the demonstration only lasted about an hour, it was enough to shake up the quiet south hills neighborhood.
The activists are demanding that Medary, along with the rest of the city, stop the sweep of unhoused people, which means ending the policy of kicking them out of parks and ticketing them for crimes like trespassing.
The event at Medary’s home came days after recent sweeps of camps in Washington-Jefferson Park near downtown Eugene. As winter approaches and Oregon sees record COVID-19 cases, activists are advocating for emergency shelter options, sanctioned camping and eviction moratoriums.
Protesters met at 7 pm on Nov. 23 for demonstration, meeting in the parking lot of the Wayne Morse Family Farm. Organizers announced that they planned to drive past Medary’s house, blaring horns and holding signs to bring attention to the unhoused people who die on the streets every year or who are subject to the park sweeps.
Erin says they demand action on a large scale. Instead of projects that house people for a few months or projects like the rest stops that allow camping for up to 75 people, she says they are asking for more.
“We are not asking for a small project for a small amount of people for a short amount of time. We want a large scale plan that will create meaningful change for the unhoused population,” she says.
Asked to comment on the protest, Medary sent Eugene Weekly statement. She did not mention the caravan demonstration on the issue of homelessness at her home. She says the city will continue to work on solutions. She also discusses the Eugene City Council’s work, citing the rest stops and the partnership with Lane County in building a shelter.
“While we work towards solutions to help all of Eugene, I encourage people to continue to make their voices heard through our public forum opportunities,” Medary said.
At Medary’s house, the demonstrators placed a medium size replica of a coffin in front of her driveway. They placed light-up candles and flowers along the edge, and wedged flyers about their demands underneath.
As the caravan made its way through the narrow streets of the south Eugene neighborhood, people from neighboring homes began to come out and film or watch the cars. A few local residents came out to stop the procession from driving past Medary’s driveway.
The reaction of the neighborhood proves their point, Erin says.
“This was a demonstration at someone’s house and they were so upset that their cozy, warm houses in the south hills were inconvenienced for 20 minutes when we came to talk about the harassment of the houseless,” she says.
Erin adds that one of the complaints heard from the neighbors was that there were children sleeping.
Her response was, “There’s children sleeping outside.”
This planned demonstration comes after activists witnessed the sweeping of a camp at Washington-Jefferson park on Nov. 19, the first day of Gov. Kate Brown’s state-wide COVID freeze. Park ambassadors, the workers who come and conduct the sweep, briefly stopped disrupting camps during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, but started to clear camps again once Lane County was in Phase 1 of reopening.
Community member Sylvia Titterington says she was at Washington-Jefferson park last week during the sweep. She says that some of the people she talked to didn’t get the 24-hour notice that the parks department is required to give and that the two Eugene Police officers present were not wearing masks.
“All people in that area had their stuff taken,” she says. “It is thrown into an inaccessible place with no information. They [parks ambassadors] said they decide what is trash and what is a belonging.”
Community Engagement Manager Kelly Shadwick says in an email that the park ambassadors and EPD officers were addressing a chronic camp/trash issue including uncapped needles, bottles of urine and rotting food. She adds that all campers present received a 24-hour notice.
Shadwick says that after the camp was cleared, the park ambassadors collected the remaining items, leaving a notice of where their things could be found.
Titterington says that the brazen disregard for the pandemic has been frustrating to see. She says the officer’s excuses for sweeping the camp was because of the children and families who needed to use the park.
“My question is where else are they supposed to go?” Titterington says of those with no homes. Often, unhoused people pack up their belongings only to unpack it in a different spot.
Erin says though Stop Death on the Streets and other networks are not the first to advocate for better care of the unhoused population, she says they are working hard to bring the message that humans are dying.
“They can’t just be sucked away, which is what the sweeps are like,” she says. “They are sweeping human beings away.”