EUGENE, Ore. - A group calling itself SLEEPS - Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep - has set up camp in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Courthouse.
"We've been treated with a great deal of respect by the Eugene Police Department," said Jean Stacey with SLEEPS. "I can't say as much for the county sheriffs who came in and started rousting people very rudely yesterday morning."
Stacey said the 14 people camped out in the plaza are using the tents not to camp but as symbols "protected by free speech."
"Our intention is to get the city to stop the camping ban," Stacey said. "We want them to stop waking people up between dusk and dawn who are already sleeping. It's inhuman and it's not good for the community to have people who are unrested out operating all day.
"Our other desire is to have designated camp spaces that are dry areas," she added. "Right now they are chasing everybody out into the wetlands. So we want dry areas. We want the city to put bathrooms in; 1,500 people with no bathrooms is not a pretty thing. And we want garbage and recycling bins out there, and we want them to be able to have fires so they can cook."
So far the city has not responded to the protest's demands.
"We've been making requests and they've ignored us," Stacey said. "That's why we've launched into civil disobedience. Historically city councils and school boards and governors have not been the ones to protect people's civil rights. If you think back to the 60s when people of color were being persecuted it was the city's councils that were making the laws that were persucuting people. So I don't know how much to expect from this City Council."
The City of Eugene did designate land this week for use by Opportunity Village, an intentional transitional housing community for people who are homless.
"It's a good start, but we've got to realize it's not going to help anybody this winter," Stacey said. "The city's dragged its feet for nine months now in giving us a piece of land. And it's only going to help 30 people next winter. So what happens to the other 1,470 people who are unsheltered? That's S.L.E.E.P.S concern."
The group issued a press release Wednesday afternoon claiming victory and striking the camp.