I took a camera crew downtown to see what we would encounter on a Sunday afternoon.
I first ran into Kayla, a man who prefers to be addressed as a woman. She was pushing a shopping cart full of black trash bags containing her possessions. She appeared to be clean, dressed in warm clothing and a bit ruddy in the cheeks because of the cold. When I explained the point of our report, she immediately agreed to talk with us. Here is our conversation verbatim:
Denae: We're just kind of examining episodes of homelessness downtown and trying to find out kind of what problems you face just being on the streets.
Kayla: Surviving mostly, just surviving day to day trying to find places that are warm and dry to sleep. Trying to stay out of jail. Trying to find a way to make money.
Denae: If you don't mind me asking, how did you end up homeless?
Kayla: Well I ended up losing my job and I couldn't replace my job. I've been trying to replace my job for 5 or 6 years and there's nothing out there for me.
Denae: Are there any solutions? Are there places you can find help in town or do you find that lacking?
Kayla: There's places to get food, places to get a shower but there's no place to sleep. Mostly just no place to sleep.
Denae: And it's getting cold now...
Kayla: Yeah, it's getting worse.
Denae: Anything else you think people would find maybe not just interesting but something they need to know about the struggle you go through?
Kayla: I guess just try to be compassionate. As long as we're not doing something we're not supposed to or taking things that aren't theirs. Just try to be understanding.
After talking with Kayla, we moved down the street about a block away to interview two men who live downtown. They expressed dismay with the conditions near where they live on 11th Street. While they were explaining what they see every day, another transient approached us. I decided not to publish his name because he was slurring his words, weaving while standing and may not have been completely coherent.
This is our exchange, also recorded on camera:
Subject: My name is Barack Obama and I'm on crack.
Denae: We're actually doing a story about people living in this area that might be homeless...
Subject: I'm homeless. Can I have a dollar?
Denae: I don't have anything to give you. Why are you homeless? Why did you lose your job?
Subject: I got kicked out of college.
Denae: And what are you doing about it now?
Subject: Uh, nothing.
Denae: Are you on something right now?
Subject: I'm on the pavement.
Denae: What are some of the biggest things you are challenged with in the city?
Subject: Ummm... (makes a lewd gesture with left hand)
Denae: Do you have a drug of choice?
Denae: What is it?
Subject: Heroin. Do you got any heroin?
Denae: That's rough. Sorry, man. Is there anywhere you can get help in town?
Denae: Have you tried?
Subject: (Doesn't answer)
Subject: I'm on crack.
Denae: You may not want this to be on television so I'm going to step away.
Subject: I think this should be on television. Turn that back on!
After he walked away, we went back to our interview with the downtown residents. I asked Adam Porter if that kind of situation happens often.
"Daily, mostly during the evenings, night time. During the day, yes."
McKenzie Freeman also answered when I asked if homeless people usually seem to be on drugs, "Definitely. Always. Every time we come in the market. We live close and every time we come to the market we get confronted with something like that."
I wondered whether that type of confrontation made them want to move out of downtown Eugene. They said it wasn't bad enough yet and they liked living close to businesses, eateries and bars.
Part two of my report includes an in-depth interview with Eugene Police Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick. He's been on the streets dealing with homeless people for years. He says some transients on the streets have more than a hundred citations but there is no penalty for them. Meaning, when it comes to homeless offenders and law enforcement, their hands are often tied.
He said, "There's no room at the inn, or the jail and if the court does issue a warrant the people are out within a matter of hours." But Fitzpatrick has an idea for a solution. He believes a voluntary ban on 12 percent alcohol 24 ounce malt liquor cans is helping.
What do you see downtown? Are these exchanges shocking to you? What solutions would you like to see put into place?