PANDEMIC ON TOP OF PANDEMIC

By: J. Ellis

Ask any person living in Eugene what the city’s most dire issue is and chances are they will respond with homelessness. It has been well established that Eugene has the highest rates of homelessness per capita than any other city in the United States, and the City of Eugene has done little to ameliorate this.

    We spoke to a representative from Black Thistle Street Aid and Occupy Medical, who provide medical aid and other services to Eugene’s unhoused communities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the nation, Occupy Medical functioned to host pop-up clinics in the city that would provide free healthcare for homeless individuals. Once the pandemic struck, their services soon expanded to address a wider variety of needs. Out of Occupy Medical, Black Thistle Street Aid was formed during the protests that took place in Eugene in the summer of 2020. The organizations’ medical outreach that happens today was born from the conditions created by the pandemic and Black Lives Matter rising. They continue to host weekly pop-up clinics every Wednesday at Washington-Jefferson Park, the city’s largest sanctioned encampment.

    The work these organizations do is critical in supporting the health and wellbeing of our unhoused neighbors, taking on responsibilities that the City of Eugene neglects. The recent conditions were described as a “pandemic on top of a pandemic,” the coupling of homelessness and COVID-19 has created even harsher conditions among an already neglected community. During this crisis, the CDC has explicitly advised against the practice of homeless encampment “sweeps,” or as the City of Eugene thinly veils the term, “evictions.” Sweeps are advised against because they decentralize the sense of community so essential during a crisis while also spreading COVID-19 outside of the camps where COVID-positive individuals may have been quarantining. Such was the case in the now infamous sweep that occurred in Washington-Jefferson Park on December 2, 2020. The city provided only a 48-hour notice of the eviction and then proceeded to forcefully sweep the camp, where at least one COVID-positive person was trying to quarantine. This cut off access to the essential medical care, food resources, and community that are essential to well-being both during and before the pandemic.

    When asked what can and should be done to address the issue of homelessness, especially during the pandemic, volunteers emphasized the importance of changing the narrative around homelessness that would lead to meaningful legislative actions. Black Thistle Street Aid volunteer, Mackenzie, cites that sweeps are “an outdated practice no matter what your goal is,” and it has been proven time and time again that this practice does nothing to reduce the amount of unsheltered individuals sleeping on the streets in a given night. Ultimately, she points out that the only real solution to homelessness is widely available and affordable housing. Until the city counters the gentrifying effects of the University of Oregon, neighborhood associations, and business-owners, housing in Eugene will continue to remain inaccessible to the population that needs it the most.

    So what can be done in the meantime? Donate what you can! Donations are the quickest and most direct way to help organizations like Occupy Medical, Black Thistle Street Aid, and CORE to continue to do this essential work that helps our community and our neighbors.

You can find donation links on their websites at:

occupy-medical.org

coreeugene.org

blackthistlestreetaid.org

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