Housing and Homelessness
As a community, we must name homelessness as the public health and humanitarian crisis that it is. We need compassion and decisive action in recognizing the variety and vulnerability of homeless folks in our community—for examples LGBTQIA+ youth and those who are aging into poverty and homelessness. Many in Lane County have experienced homelessness as a result of economic hardship (including the COVID-19 pandemic), a shortage of safe and affordable housing, the inability to find employment, or because of a lack of support for mental health and addiction issues. Some of our neighbors are one unexpected car repair or other expense away from losing their homes. We have to do what we can to keep our safety net strong and stabilize individuals and families to stop the cycle of poverty and housing instability in Lane County. Even if we had no unhoused people today, by this time next year hundreds will have become homeless because of COVID-19, already high rents, stagnant wages, and inadequate services.
As your Commissioner, I will continue to advocate for the decriminalization of homelessness, directing resources toward crisis, addiction, and mental health support, and for building a robust and varied housing inventory. I am committed to approaching this crisis holistically and working cross-jurisdictionally to find immediate and long-term solutions.
Firstly, we cannot continue to prohibit or cite unhoused people for engaging in basic human activities like using public facilities, resting, sitting, or sleeping. District 3 is almost entirely within the City of Eugene and as such issues of public safety are under the Eugene Police Department who are often called to “sweep” unhoused people from public spaces: creating further instability and unsafety in the lives of our unhoused neighbors. Attempts to move our neighbors out of sight instead of focusing on the root causes of homelessness and poverty create more problems for our community in the long run.
We have children coming to school without having had breakfast or adequate rest, and struggling not because of their lack of trying but because of undue stress from their home life instability. The strain on teachers having to address homeless children is unacceptable and many neighbors in District 3 have coworkers or friends who are struggling to find a reliable and stable place to sleep each night. As a community and for myself as an individual, this is an unacceptable situation for our community to be in.
Formerly incarcerated people are one specific population who need targeted support. Approximately 50% of folks released from custody are released into homelessness. We must do more to ease their transition by working with area nonprofits designed to help. We must also look at alternatives to punishment, especially for non-violent, first-time offenders.
We should be directing resources to the prevention of homelessness, crisis and mental health supports, and victim and survivor-centered services in order to create truly safe and inclusive communities.
Secondly, we must look at providing the necessary support services that prevent or alleviate chronic homelessness; such as mental and behavioral health support, addiction treatment, medical care, child care, and workforce training. The lack of such treatment is often the catalyst for housing instability or homelessness. We also cannot continue to use the county jail as a mental health facility—especially with the added dangers of COVID-19. Recognizing that the funding for these services does not fully lie on the county (as it is mostly funded by the state) does not absolve the county from doing everything in its power to support our communities. As your next Commissioner, I will be a strong advocate for fully funding crisis, addiction, and mental health services.
Thirdly, we must address housing for both immediate and long-term needs. I am a strong advocate of finding a site and creating a sustainable low barrier shelter for our community as soon as possible. We also need more affordable and varied housing inventory in order to serve the diverse needs of individuals and families in Lane County. In order to do so, we must work on streamlining our siting and permitting to ensure new housing is well integrated. We’re lucky to live in this beautiful place with many available resources, and I believe there is a way to share space and resources that doesn’t compromise our existing neighborhoods.
In Eugene, 51% of housed people are renters, and their living options are directly tied to the housing available. As your Commissioner, I will work with the City of Eugene to advocate for a renters protection bill to help keep people in their homes (that goes beyond the immediate COVID-19 pandemic). Families deserve to stay in their homes and to have easy access to basic services like healthcare, transit, fresh & local food, and green spaces.
I am committed to working cross-jurisdictionally to secure the resources and implement the strategies as soon as possible to aid those who need it now. Housing and homelessness are two of the most pressing challenges facing Lane County. Often people think the answer is to just build more affordable housing, thinking that will accomplish both goals. However, our housing needs are for more than just low-income housing and addressing homelessness takes more than just having enough affordable places to live.