EUGENE, Ore. -- Lane County’s homeless population has grown every year for the past five years, and the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce says businesses are reaching a breaking point.
Over the past several months, the chamber took the unusual step of conducting its own study into the homeless crisis and just released the results.
The report says despite millions of dollars and countless hours of service, the homeless crisis continues. There were more than 3,100 people without homes living in Lane County in August, and just 42 moved into housing during the same period.
The report found a number of factors have led the crisis, including not enough low barrier shelter spaces and a lack of political will and community justice resources to address criminal behavior in the community. The report found that to shift from our current state of managing the crisis to making homelessness a rare issue, we need to move away from a government-driven and funded model.
The report also has eight recommendations to help, including getting leaders together from all sectors to come up with solutions, prioritizing emergency shelter capacity, effective wrap-around services like mental health and substance abuse support. It says also we need to send the message that anyone - homeless or not - should not break the law.
Brittany Quick-Warner, president and CEO of the chamber, said the study was the result of continued frustration and a ballooning homeless population during the pandemic. She said businesses reached out to the chamber in large numbers asking for help.
“They didn’t know what to do. There was a lot of crime and vandalism and theft. You know, a lot of staff who were being accosted and assaulted as they were trying to enter their companies,” Quick-Warner said.
Quick-Warner said the chamber set out to understand the problem so that they could begin to address it.
“We knew that after years and years of investment and millions of dollars of investment, if we're not making a dent in the problem that we see here in this community, there must be something kind of deeper in the systematic kind of ways that we're addressing it that are broken and things that need to be fixed,” Quick-Warner said.
The study was conducted over several months and interviewed more than 150 people in the community including homeless nonprofits, city and county staff, businesses and community leaders and the members of the unhoused community and residents.
Among the eight recommendations includes a request to elected leaders for a full-throated condemnation of crime.
“I believe our elected officials have to make that statement publicly to say, look, we're here to care for you. We're here to help you get well. We're not okay with you continuing with criminal activity on our streets. And we're drawing the line. We're not a community that is welcome to criminals coming here,” Quick-Warner said.
She emphasized not all homeless are criminals. She also said the solution isn’t just to throw money at the problem, but believes businesses could also pitch in more to help out non-profits and lend resources.
“We are nowhere close to claiming that the chamber is the expert on this issue…but we do think that there's a role for the business community in holding those leaders accountable and saying, look, we recognize that we're failing as a community to solve this homeless crisis, and we've got to figure out how to do that differently,” Quick-Warner said.
You can read the full report here.