Bureaucracy is More Than a Bitch, It’s a Killer

On the winter solstice of 2021, while many families were warm at home, a quiet group of anarchists made a showing at a candlelight vigil.

The event was hosted by the Eugene Human Rights Commission, to memorialize every homeless person who died in Eugene this year.

The Eugene Human Rights Commission seems to be a City of Eugene “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”-type team (DEI). This city department is designed to put on solidarity marches, present awards, and gosh darn it, make everyone feel good! Not on the longest and darkest night of the year though, when over 40 deaths were announced: named and unnamed community members. The real number of deaths is unknown.

Among the community partnerships listed was the City of Eugene Police Department, various churches and charity organizations, and the star of the night: Egan Warming Center.

Unfortunately, Egan is an emergency shelter that only operates on freezing nights when unsheltered people would surely die from exposure. Surprisingly, none of the mutual aid groups like Black Thistle Street Aid or Stop the Sweeps were listed, even though Black Thistle Street Aid can boast an impact of over 6,000 people helped since their founding in July 2020— with a budget that seems to come entirely from informal donations or volunteers’ pockets.

Given the recent protests surrounding the City of Eugene’s forcible removal of homeless people from their encampments, I audibly laughed when the police department was commended for their efforts in this humanitarian crisis.

Surely the Eugene Human Rights Commission knows that the City of Eugene orders these removals? That many of these deaths were at the hands of police officers who stole and trashed community members’ belongings and left them exposed to the cold?

The City of Eugene has a love-hate relationship with their homeless citizens, and by love-hate I mean that they love taking credit for the work of community groups, student design teams, and equity committees that pretend they are providing real housing. The hate part of the relationship is aimed at homeless people themselves, with the City of Eugene’s hostile architecture, heavy enforcement of loitering laws, and genocidal sweeps. But homeless people don’t bring in tuition, football, or Nike dollars.

So the homelessness response is centered on optics and a complete lack of compassion. After all, we don’t want any of those students from California to feel unsafe here, do we?

As someone who has both experienced homelessness and worked in homeless services at the county level here in Oregon, I know the process of drafting strategic plans, setting goals, and creating cute infographics inviting “stakeholders” to “listening sessions” is a complete and utter delusion few are comfortable acknowledging. No money will come to fund the tiny home villages and congregate shelters.If they’re lucky, overworked bureaucrats and social workers will get a Cost of Living Increase.

Building transitional housing without heat or electricity: that’s not stupidity, that’s negligence. We have become a morally corrupt society when a budget report matters more than the basic human needs of the person living next to us. With Eugene having the largest per capita number of homeless people in the United States, and growing, it makes one wonder why we pay taxes at all if government can’t and won’t protect us.

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