SLEEPS camp leaves plaza after closure order

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EUGENE, Ore. - The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Courthouse is empty, blocked off to the public by an emergency order of the Lane County Commission.

The SLEEPS protest camp that prompted the commission to vote 4-1 to close the plaza has moved to the old federal courthouse.

The commission voted after a report from the county health officer raised concerns about sanitation and public safety at the camp.

In enforcing the county's closure Wednesday, Eugene Police cited and released three people and arrested one person on charges of second degree criminal trespass.

County Commissioners can still see the protest camp across the street at its new location.

"Like the County Courthouse, this is a traditional place to protest," said Commissioner Pat Farr. "I do know in the past the federal government has not been very amenable to people spending the night there."

Far said sanitation costs incurred by the county while the protesters camped in the plaza hit $5,000, with final cleanup expected to cost more. He hoped the cleanup would be complete before the weekend so the county could reopen the plaza to the public.

One protester said the closure and cleanup were overdue.

"It did need to happen and there were sanitations issues, and that's what happens when people come from the outside and are very passionate," said Jai Veda with AWAKE, a protest group that joined SLEEPS on a lot near the courthouse.

Veda said his group as signed a pact with SLEEPS to combine as one group of homeless protesters.

Not all the people in the plaza were homeless, like Michael McFadden, who was cited for trespassing when he refused to leave the plaza Wednesday night.

"Because the order to close the plaza isn't legal and doesn't respect the rights of any Oregonians or Lane County residents to express their opinion on public property" he said.

Protesters said Thursday that they are going to stay put until they find a safe, legal place to sleep.