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Eugene Businesses: Destructive Acts And Behavior From Some Homeless Hurting Bottom Line

Stephen Sheehan

Continued “lawlessness” by some transients in Eugene has hurt downtown businesses over the holiday season.

Stephen Sheehan says at his Elk Horn Brewery business fell 30 percent this winter. And after he cut hours for some employees, several quit.  Sheehan adds many former customers are avoiding panhandlers or more confrontational transients.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Stephen Sheehan, owner of Elk Horn Brewery and founder of Eugene Wake Up! outside his business.

“Some of my female friends say they don’t want to come at night time anymore because they feel threatened by the names they’re called, and sexually harassed.”

Sheehan adds that while he appreciates city officials' efforts to address issues behind homelessness and crime, Eugene businesses don't have "two to three years" to see results.

Meanwhile, Kim Fairbairn of Max’s Tavern says she spends $500 a month fixing damaged property or replacing stolen equipment.

“The lawlessness in the town is definitely ramping up in my opinion. Y’know, I care for my fellow man but this is a problem that is affecting everybody.”

Fairbairn supports Sheehan for speaking out, and founding the local business coalition, Eugene Wake Up!   He began organizing it after a homeless woman caused $8000 in damage to his brewery earlier this fall.

Sheehan says soon they’ll have overnight patrols for his establishment, several U of O sororities, and neighboring restaurants.

“They’ll sometimes be in pairs, sometimes not be in pairs,” Sheehan tells KLCC. “They’ll change their paths up every day, so you won’t know where they’re going to be when. So this element that we would prefer not to have around won’t know when they’re going to be there, so then maybe it’ll clear up some of the lawless behavior that we’re all having.”

Sheehan estimates it’ll cost $600 to $1,000 a month per partner to hire a security firm for the patrols. But he says he can’t afford not to have them.  

As the City of Eugene works with local businesses to address more aggressive and destructive members of the homeless community, at least one panhandler urges caution.

Saint Christopher Bonnell says if the city and groups like Eugene Wake Up! aren’t careful, they could divide the community. He also worries efforts could further what he says is a decade-long trend of gentrification he’s seen in Eugene…a place he deems “Hippy Central”.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
A homeless encampment on a sidewalk near the downtown area.

“Some of these kids out here, yes, they’re [expletive deleted]. They’re aggressive spangers* and they don’t deserve to be able to freakin’ panhandle in downtown,” he says, sitting outside McDonalds with his dog.  “If you’re aggressive and you’re panhandling, then you should be tooken [sic] out of the area so you are not an eyesore.

“But if you’re being completely polite and you’re not doing anything to actually verbally harm someone’s ears, then what’s the point of taking away a piece of the culture of Eugene?”

Bonnell says he always leaves when asked to by property or business owners, and believes most homeless are peaceful and law-abiding. 

City officials urge patience, as they implement a 10-point plan to provide more housing…and the Eugene Police Department works to increase its force. 

* Shorthand slang for someone who asks people for money, or “spare changers”.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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