Eugene looking for more places for homeless to camp

    EUGENE — Eugene businesswoman Sue Scott has let homeless people live in trailers and motor homes on her property for two years. And she hasn't regretted a minute of it.

    In fact, she recommends that other business owners do the same thing.

    "I had all the fears that most people do," she said. "What about the trash that may be left behind? What about the old car that may be left? And all that stuff. But I said OK. And you know what? I'm glad I did."

    Scott, an owner of Scott & Sons Towing, is one of 12 Eugene business owners who participate in the city's homeless vehicle camping program.

    And with more people living on Eugene streets, the city and St. Vincent de Paul are looking for more people like Scott business or property owners willing to let homeless people camp in vehicles on their land.

    St. Vincent de Paul oversees different vehicle camping programs — one for homeless people with children and one for childless people.

    The agency manages 15 places in Eugene and one in Springfield for families with children. Most of the spaces are at churches. Only nine of the Eugene spots are currently occupied.

    But the demand by people without children for vehicle camping spots is much greater.

    St. Vincent de Paul manages 21 locations where vehicle camping is allowed for childless couples or individuals. However, the agency has a waiting list with 50 to 60 groups of homeless people who need a place to go.

    "I need more spots," said Keith Heath of St. Vincent de Paul, who manages the vehicle camping program for people without children.

    A count of homeless people in Lane County taken last month found 3,971 people who did not have housing, a 50 percent jump over the number of homeless people counted last year.

    The homeless people were living in temporary shelters, or sleeping in cars, under bridges and in other areas.

    On Wednesday, Richie Weinman, the city's urban services manager, told the City Council that more camping locations are needed.

    "The real challenge is getting more spaces," he said.

    Two years ago, trespassing, vandalism and theft had become a problem for Scott and her family owned business.

    Thieves were breaking into the towing company's wrecking yard near the Eugene Airport to steal metal that they could sell as scrap.

    Thieves once broke into a shop and stole parts and tools, Scott said.

    "When we walked in the door, there wasn't even as much as a screwdriver left in the building," she said.

    Scott had heard about Eugene business owners allowing their properties to be part of the homeless vehicle camping program. Business owners liked the idea of homeless campers keeping an eye on their properties after business hours.

    After talking to Heath, Scott allowed her property to be used by homeless vehicle campers, allowing them to set up outside the wrecking yard's fence. Their presence immediately ended the thefts, she said.

    The campers have watched strangers "come up to the fence and up the driveway and they say, 'Hey this is private property, and You need to leave,'" Scott said. "And the would-be trespassers have left. We haven't had a problem."

    Currently, there are five people in three vehicles two motor homes and one trailer living on Scott's property.

    The city pays for portable toilets and garbage collection for the campsite. Scott provides water, but she is not required to do so. The campers get electricity from a generator or batteries.

    When she first allowed the camping, Scott said she made some rules clear.

    "We don't want the place looking like a junk yard," she recalled saying. "And we don't want trash laying around."

    "I laid down some basic ground rules and everybody is happy to follow those."

    The campers surprised her by removing a thicket of blackberry bushes and a bunch of old pallets.

    "They have taken pride in where they live, and I kind of let them do their own thing," Scott said.

    Of the 21 spaces managed by Heath, 12 are at businesses, eight are on city property, such as Alton Baker Park, and one is at a church.

    Heath said he would welcome inquiries from any business or property owner interested in providing other spots.

    "I would love it," he said.

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