City to resume shutting down, cleaning up illegal homeless camps

EUGENE, Ore. - As the Eugene City Council whittles down a list of possible locations for a legal homeless camp, city staff will resume shutting down and cleaning up illegal camps in public parks.

The effort on city lands is similar to the effort launched this week by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages parts of the West Eugene Wetlands. Camping is not allowed on those public lands.

Camping in public parks is against the law in Eugene. However, the city's Parks and Open Space department halted cleanup of illegal camps 9 months ago in the wake of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, according to a memo briefing the City Council on the situtation.

The ruling requires governments take reasonable steps to give notice that property has been taken so the owner can pursue available remedies for its return.

"Our past practice did not meet this new legal obligation, and Illegal camp clean-up on City owned parkland was temporarily put on hold while a process was developed," according to a memo from Eric Jones, a city public information officer. "In the meantime, many camps have grown and become established causing a multitude of public safety concerns. Garbage, human waste, and other health hazards have accumulated. Some existing camps, particularly in West Eugene Wetlands, are as large as 80 people (according to the 2013 Homeless Count) or more.

"We now have a process in place that is both respectful of people's rights and fulfills our legal obligation," Jones wrote. "Our goal is to easily reunite people with their personal belongings. Between now and July 19, City staff will be notifying existing illegal campers of the clean-up date to give as much notice as possible of their impending need to move.

"Beginning on July 19, illegal camps will be officially posted. If illegal campers do not remove their belongings, the camps will be cleaned-up beginning July 22.

"Postings at illegal camps will include property retrieval information. Personal belongings collected during camp clean-ups will be held in secure and dry storage for 30 days and can be reclaimed at 115 N. Garfield between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. M-F, excluding holidays."