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Cleanup of Eugene homeless camps yields pounds of trash

July 31, 2019

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A large-scale cleanup has netted thousands of pounds of trash and waste from 10 homeless encampments spread throughout a small island on the Willamette River in Eugene.

The Register-Guard reported Wednesday that the city and low-level criminal offenders supervised by the Lane County Sheriff’s Office began the cleaning project Tuesday to reclaim the area.

About 1 ½ tons of trash will be removed from the area by the time the crews finish, said Brian Allen, illicit activities program field lead for the city. The garbage collected includes broken bike frames, tires, human feces and dozens of hypodermic needles.

“These islands see a lot of pressure from the homeless,” Allen said. “It’s also an area of many illicit activities. We live in a really special place, and these camps impact it negatively.”

Complaints from Eugene residents about trash in the Willamette River from the campsites prompted the cleanup, said Joe Waksmundski, park ambassador for the city.

“It’s not a safe place for people to visit. If you had children or wanted to go fishing, you would not come onto this island. It creates a place that’s not open to the general public, and it can’t be enjoyed,” said Waksmundski.

Issues surrounding homeless camps in Eugene are nothing new.

In June, the city cracked down on curbside camping by allowing business owners to enforce trespassing rules when people camp on planter strips in front of their businesses.

But the riverbanks and islands of the Willamette River are state-owned and state-regulated, meaning the city must negotiate with the Department of State Lands to create rules restricting access and camping.

A state advisory committee met in June to discuss potential restrictions that include no camping or fires at any time and no public use between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on the riverbanks and islands.

As of right now, public access and camping is not allowed in the area from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A public comment period is scheduled for October and Waksmundski hopes the change will be approved and go into effect within the next six months.

Because the city of Eugene doesn’t have jurisdiction over the area, it hasn’t dedicated resources to enforce restrictions and keep large camps from building up, he said.

“If this were in our park system, we’d be visiting here multiple times a week,” he said.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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