My Quick Note this morning is dedicated to a topic impacting many of your businesses and that we are working on extensively right now.
We are acutely aware of the growing number of businesses dealing with criminal activity and unsanctioned camping on or near their property. It is one of our top priorities at the Chamber right now. I spent time Thursday driving around the West Eugene and Whiteaker area to take photos and see for myself the current state of affairs in those parts of the community. It was incredibly disheartening. These businesses and employees need relief, the homeless individuals need a sanctioned, safe place to be, and the criminals need to be held accountable.
We are committed to addressing these issues.
First, after dozens of conversations with elected officials, city staff and nonprofit and business leaders it is clear we have to reframe this issue.
Solving Homelessness by Saving and Increasing Jobs
To accomplish these goals, we strongly believe we need a shift in our way of thinking about and approaching this issue as a community. Historically businesses have been pitted against homeless individuals and advocates, suggesting there are two-sides to these issues and that we are not working towards the same goal of ending homelessness. We believe helping the businesses that are struggling with the impacts of criminal activity and illegal camping is a long-term solution to our current homeless challenge.
The businesses I have spoken to over the past few months are at a true tipping point. They are struggling to keep up with the challenges they are experiencing. They are worried about the safety of their employees; and several are having serious conversations about leaving our community. A rough calculation of the number of jobs represented by the employers I have spoken to is over 500. That means we have 500 community members at risk of losing their jobs- which is a leading cause of homelessness in our community and across the country. If we truly want to make strides in solving our homeless challenge in Eugene, we have to prioritize “turning off the spigot” by saving and growing jobs and keeping people off the streets in the first place.
Addressing the immediate criminal activity impacting businesses today IS a long-term solution to solving homelessness. It must be prioritized.
We are working on a detailed action plan for how to accomplish these goals above, but for now I wanted to share some immediate actions that we are taking or are aware of happening:
While COVID has added a layer of complexity to an already overwhelming situation, we know there are things that can still be done now. We have a lot more to come, and I plan to keep providing progress updates along the way.
The sun is out and it feels a whole lot more like Spring than it does the end of Winter at the moment, so hopefully I catch you with this update before you cut out for the weekend. This past week has been filled with both good news and hard work on daunting issues facing our community. A quick note on a few of those things…
Homelessness and Camping Sites
Over the past several weeks the number of calls and emails I have fielded from businesses in Eugene about issues they are having with homeless camps near their business property is growing. From West Eugene to the Whiteaker neighborhood to Downtown, the concerns are spread throughout the community. I also had the opportunity this week to tour the The Hub- a Dawn-to-Dawn homeless shelter site run by St. Vincent de Paul on HWY 99. After spending time talking with their staff for over an hour, it was clear to me that the concerns about the homeless encampments are shared by businesses, neighbors, service providers and our city staff and elected officials. With strict COVID-19 regulations in place on how to accommodate our homeless population during this pandemic, some of the issues are out of our community’s hands. However, I don’t think all of them are that way.
I have reached out and scheduled a meeting with the Eugene City Manager, Police Chief, Mayor, Public Works Director and Planning Director for this upcoming Monday to do some digging into what the city is doing in response to the issues businesses are facing and how we can think outside the box to make sure we are actually solving the problems that exist. Additionally, we have been in touch with both councilors Claire Syrett and Randy Groves about the specific issues in their wards. Randy and I are meeting shortly to identify ways the city council can contribute to turning our situation around. I hope to have more for you soon about next steps. Just know we are actively working on this issue and if you have any specific concerns you want me to document and pass along, please send those my way.
Community Safety Survey
More specifically, on the topic of safety, we need help getting the business community to respond to a survey the city is conducting on where dollars should be spent around public safety. With the new payroll tax that was passed a couple years ago, dollars are to be distributed across our community justice system. However, with the unrest that last year brought, there are community members asking to reevaluate how that money should be spent. As direct contributors to the fund, it is important they hear from as many business leaders as possible.
Please take the survey here (there are only 13 questions and they go by quickly): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7TQYVFB
Now some good news…
We learned on Monday that our recruitment efforts were successful and Southwest Airlines will be expanding and providing service to the Eugene airport! This recruitment project was a partnership between the Eugene Airport, City of Eugene, Lane County, City of Springfield, Onward Eugene, Travel Lane County, Eugene and Springfield Chambers, University of Oregon, Technology Association of Oregon and over 50 private businesses and elected officials who wrote support letters and helped with a site visit and tour of our community. It was truly a team effort and it feels good to have a win this big to kick off 2021! They hope to start service sometime mid-summer and we are anxiously awaiting to hear what cities they will be flying to directly.
$500,000 Federal Grant Award
Just prior to hearing about our successful recruitment project, we were elated to learn that the Eugene Chamber, Onward Eugene and the University of Oregon were selected for a $500,000 grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency. These funds will help us expand services to entrepreneurs and growing businesses in the Eugene area. Those who have applied for and received a federal grant know that even just applying is a feat in and of itself. I am proud of the team that was successful in bringing this investment to our community!
American Rescue Plan
Lastly, yesterday President Biden signed in to law the American Rescue Plan which has many components, several of which will provide much needed support to businesses as they recover from the pandemic. If you want to learn more about what is included and how it may help your business, please join us for our free Committed to Community Webinar on this topic next Thursday, March 18th. Thanks to a generous sponsorship by OCCU we are able to offer these resources free to our community.
You can register to join us here: https://eugeneorcoc.wliinc19.com/events/Committed-to-Community-Webinar-American-Rescue-Plan-2318220/details
Have a wonderful weekend.
Brittany Quick -Warner
President & CEO, Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce