Controversial ordinance could close Kesey Square at night to force out homeless people

Eugene Police Department proposed an ordinance at the May 27 City Council meeting that would close Kesey Square between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m every day, to reduce vandalism. After another public comment session on June 9th, the council hasn’t made a decision yet.

Kesey Square, technically named Broadway Plaza, is located at the corner of Broadway and Willamette St. downtown. It is usually called Kesey Square because of its statue of Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The revitalization of downtown in recent years has caused clashes between new businesses and transients. Food cart owners complain of nightly vandalism, discarded drug paraphernalia, and people urinating and defecating in the square.

Todd Patopea, owner of Taylor’s Chuck Wagon in the square, said homeless people vandalized and threw eggs at his cart in retaliation for supporting the square closure at the last council meeting.

Patopea says the “homeless by choice” know that they won’t be sent to the overcrowded Lane County Jail for minor infractions, so he says the city should open a labor camp.

“The county used to have one, and I tell you what, it was effective, cause to these guys work is the last thing they want to do. And when they got done with [the labor camp], they blasted right out of town.”

Jennifer Frenzer serves on the homelessness work group for Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. She said closing the square is merely the latest attempt to exclude the homeless from public spaces, and EPD will only enforce this law against the homeless.

But according to Sue Sierralupe, the director of Occupy Medical, it may not be the homeless who are causing all the ruckus.

Sierralupe spent a few nights observing the square. She reported that most of the homeless seemed  low-key and peaceful, and that intoxicated university students are the ones vandalizing and urinating in public after the bars close.

However, EPD is already running party patrols to police rowdy students. “So the double standard exists, but it exists on the college students. It makes me absolutely sick,” Patopea said.

Patopea also believes that the Eugene Mission had plenty of room last winter, so homeless people shouldn’t complain they have nowhere to go.

But Dana Gray, senior director of operations at the Mission, said they had to use a lottery system during cold weather, though they currently have enough beds.

Other shelters have long waiting lists, but the Mission usually has more room because it requires random drug tests and a 6:30 p.m. curfew. “Those are the rules,” Gray said, “and they aren’t that tough for people that want to stay dry.”

Cheryl Powers recently escaped homelessness, and believes drugs are the real culprit. “It’s homelessness, OK, well what creates that lifestyle?” Powers said. “It’s the drugs. The city needs to have stricter enforcement.”

Yet Frenzer pointed out that Eugene already has laws prohibiting vandalism, drug use and public urination, so a law closing the square wouldn’t help.

Frenzer suggests building a public bathroom like the Portland Loo, creating a legal place to camp while sending homeless addicts to rehab.

“You can’t deny services and expect people to get better on their own,” she said. “We have to take into consideration the nature of an urban area. It’s not about excluding people.”

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