No place to go? 'The vacancy rate for low-income people is under 1%'

EUGENE, Ore. - The people living in the SLEEPS protest camp would like to get off the streets.

They can't.

"You can't go in sleep-deprived, a huge pack, coming out of the rain and say, 'Hey I need a job!'" said protester Rusty Savage. "You know, it's just not going to happen."

Professionals who work with the homeless population agree.

"The only real emergency, immediate shelter available to anyone who needs it in this community is the Egan Warming Center, which is only available on a few really cold nights during the winter," said William Wise, director of First Place Family Center. "Everywhere else has waiting lists."

SKIP AHEAD: What do the protesters want? | What is the city doing?

Wise says it may take several years for a person who is homeless to obtain affordable housing on a waiting list. He added that it would likely take 2,000 new, affordable housing units to address the local demand.

Places where people living on the streets could go have limits to the number of people they can help.

For example, The Eugene Mission has capped the number of people it can house at 350 - and put in place prohibitions on drugs and alcohol.

"We're in a situation where there's not enough rentals and there's not enough jobs," Wise said. "The available vacancy rate for reasonably priced places for low-income people is under 1 percent."

Wise said the University of Oregon student population drives up the demand for housing - and that drives up rent.

Wise said Terry McDonald, director of St. Vincent DePaul, told him in a conversation recently, "If we we're to build another 2,000 affordable rooms for low-income people, it would almost completely solve the problem."

Wise agrees.

"We have to ask ourselves what kind of a world, what kind of a country, what kind of a community we want to live in. There are many places in the world that consider a place to sleep at night and basic medical care to be a normal human right."

"Rest Stops" proposal lacks support

A proposal to establish a small legal area for overnight camping for homeless people got a lukewarm reception from the community and homeless protesters Monday night.

The Eugene City Council proposal would establish "rest stops," where up to 15 people could sleep on a yet-to-be-designated site from dusk until dawn. Campers would have to leave at sunrise. The program would run for 90 days to see how it works.

The proposal was the latest city response to the SLEEPS protests. People affiliated with Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep, or SLEEPS, have been sleeping at a number of spots across the city and county. Some camps have been evicted, only to pop up across town - or across the street.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy acknowledged in an interview Monday that there is some grey area in regards to legality of sleeping within city limits.

"Once it moves past protesting into actually setting up and living in a place, then they are breaking the camping ban," she said Monday.

When asked if that isn't what SLEEPS protesters are doing,

"Yes, except that the difference is that it's our property and we can exercise our rights to ask for eviction."

According to the Eugene Police Department, as of Monday, there aren't any active eviction notices.

What do the protesters want?

Amidst news reports of the camps, protests and evictions, many people continue to ask: What do the protesters want?

"To get resources, to get a place where people don't have to be on the streets," said Rusty Savage, one of the SLEEPS protesters. "We're setting up tents sitting here, soaked and drenched. And to not be criminalized for being homeless."

Savage said he worked at Venture Data in Eugene. He lost his job and became homeless, but not by choice.

"It's not easy, we are not being lazy," he said. "This is actually harder than living in a house and just driving back and forth to work."

When asked if he is putting effort into finding employment, Savage said, "Yeah! That's what we're trying to do."