At the request of Lane County officials, Eugene police evicted homeless campers Friday from a strip of county property next to the Lane Events Center that the group had occupied since Tuesday as part of a broader, ongoing protest that continues elsewhere in the city.
Two people — Todd Gregory Hurlburt, 49, and Lori Lynn Mahaney, 45 — declined to vacate the fairgrounds site as directed by officers who arrived there shortly after 6 a.m., and were issued citations for violating a city ordinance that bans overnight camping on public property, police Lt. Eric Klinko said.
Alley Valkyrie, a local activist who is involved with the protest effort, said Hurlburt and Mahaney plan to contest the charges in Eugene Municipal Court. If convicted, the pair could be fined a maximum of $200 each but would not face jail time.
Klinko said Friday’s eviction went smoothly, and that the group was “cordial” with him and other police department supervisors who enforced the city’s camping ban on the strip of county-owned land along 13th Avenue. Police posted signs on the property earlier in the week to inform campers of the ordinance.
“Their argument is that they’re protesting” by camping on public property, he said. “We’re agreeing to disagree, to an extent.”
The protest group known as Sleeps, or Safe Legally Entitled Places to Sleep, believes the city’s camping ban is unconstitutional, and that people have a right to sleep on public land. They want public officials in Lane County to designate an unspecified amount of property for people to stay on overnight.
The ousting of campers from the fairgrounds site is but a small setback for the group, Sleeps member Valkyrie said. She added that while she and other supporters are part of Sleeps, the campout/protest itself is being conducted by homeless people who are committed to the cause. “They intend to keep protesting and keep moving (to other locations), and other people intend to get tickets,” she said. “They don’t intend to stop.”
Klinko said that although the people who pitched 10 tents near the fairgrounds had violated the city camping ban, the group was not involved in any known criminal activity. One resident of an adjacent neighborhood called police earlier in the week to complain about the camp, Klinko said.
Meanwhile, a larger group of Sleeps members is continuing an around-the-clock demonstration in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the county courthouse, as well as on county-owned land across the street.
Klinko said city police do not plan at this point to interfere with those gatherings.
The Board of Commissioners will consider imposing an emergency closure of the plaza this week to force campers off the site. Such a closure was recommended Thursday by the county’s public health officer, Dr. Patrick Luedtke, who toured the plaza and said “the level of disease transmission risk” there made him uncomfortable.
“It would be beneficial at this time to thoroughly clean the area in order to best protect the current occupants as well as others visiting or conducting business in the area,” he said. “A rotating schedule to clean the grounds, should they again be occupied, is in the best interest of the public’s health.”
Eugene police have checked periodically on the camps near the courthouse and responded to a smattering of calls there since Sleeps arrived Aug. 15. Klinko said “a couple” of people overdosed on drugs in the camps, but that officers have received no reports of crimes “of any great substance” there.
The plaza campsite formed just hours after a Eugene Municipal Court judge threw out, on free speech grounds, trespassing citations issued to Sleeps members who resisted the county’s efforts to close the public square on an overnight demonstration last winter.