Ban dries up streets

Blair Ryan

It’s another Saturday night at Washington-Jefferson Park, the homeless hub of Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood, but there’s an unusual air of tranquility enveloping the shadowy grounds.

Have Eugene homeless shelters fulfilled the impossible task of housing every homeless individual on this cold fall evening? Did the Eugene Police Department tighten restrictions on homelessness tonight?


This placid ambience is the simple response to a 90-day prohibition of inexpensive malt liquor on the shelves of six neighborhood convenience stores.

In response to recurrent neighborhood complaints, police reports and storeowner grievances about alcohol-related problems in the Whiteaker neighborhood, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission made an agreement with the neighborhood stores on Oct. 12, halting the sale of three cheap alcoholic beverages.

This ban follows a summer of increased crime and public drunkenness mostly involving homeless individuals in the Whiteaker neighborhood, specifically in Washington-Jefferson Park between First and Fifth Avenues on Jefferson Street, where James David Pelfrey, a homeless man, was stabbed to death in August.

According to EPD crime statistics, crime in the area increased 50 percent in the last year.
“The residents I’ve spoken with acknowledge the increase in crime and attribute the increase to a group of criminal transients who have moved into the area,” said police Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick, who said he agreed with their views.

While some believe this prohibition is necessary to curb crime and alcoholism, others see the ban as unnecessary and misguided, believing that the customers will simply travel to another neighborhood or that they deserve another form of community assistance.

Dari Mart Manager Gary Straube believes the prohibition does not correctly target the problem.

Fitzpatrick received a call from a citizen who stated the criminals should be “left in the Whiteaker, where they belong.”

Straube added, “Taking the liquor off the shelves in only that area will not stop the sale of the product, it will just stop the location of the sale. The people buying it will simply move on to another neighborhood.”

The alcohol beverages banned, Budweiser’s Hurricane High Gravity, Steel Reserve High Gravity and Earthquake High Gravity, range from 8.1 percent alcohol to 12 percent alcohol and cost around $1.30 per pint — significantly less than the usual price for a pint of beer.

Anand Keathley, vice chairman of the Whiteaker Community Council, said that prior to the ban, the council received multiple complaints from the community about sales of alcohol to visibly intoxicated people. Additionally, citizens expressed concerns about multiple crimes inflicted on local homeless people.

While Keathley respects the city’s attempt to curb these social problems, he believes the halt of selling these beverages is simply a “Band-Aid” for other important social problems.

“It does not let stores off the hook for their actions selling alcohol to people already intoxicated or underaged,” he said. “It does not address the violence our society visits upon our homeless citizens, but it does make politicians look better and makes some people think something has been done.”

Thirteen years ago, a similar ban was implemented in the same general area, yielding a visible decrease in both crime and public intoxication. Following Jan. 12, 2010, EPD will compare the crime rates in the Whiteaker area in the past 90 days to data from the same time and place last year. Once the statistics are available, OLCC, EPD and the involved stores will meet again to discuss the next step, which may be to implement a citywide ban.

A homeless woman who frequents Washington-Jefferson Park said the current ban only
causes negativity.

“I don’t believe it’ll stop crime rate here,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “I honestly cannot think of anything that will stop the crime in this area.”

The Whiteaker neighborhood may be out of the general campus area, but a fair amount of University students live near the six convenience stores and are regular patrons. University junior Erin Brewer, who lives a few blocks away from the 7-Eleven, criticized the trial run.

“There are other community services that could help get these homeless people back on their feet,” she said. “This is a short-term method that seems to miss the target.”

Brewer added that the ban also affects cash-strapped college students looking for a cheap beer after a long day.

Although the current ban has elicited both support and criticism, Fitzpatrick has hope for the future of the neighborhood’s atmosphere.

“For the first time in months, I saw kids playing at the Washington-Jefferson Park playground,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview last week. “I took it as a positive sign.”

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