For many, alcohol and drug use are a prevalent part of living in Eugene, Oregon. For college students whose weekends begin on Wednesday night and end Sunday afternoon, where the purpose is to party and the trend is to get as drunk as possible; for Duck fans who move into Autzen Stadium for less than 24 hours to tailgate, drink heavily and get rowdy over football; for the homeless population who have made downtown Eugene streets their home and in order to stay warm resort to drinking and smoking marijuana, the problem with substance abuse is real and has become integrated in the culture of Eugene.
Prevention and Planning Supervisor at Lane County Health and Human Services in downtown Eugene, C.A. Baskerville, deals with health problems both before and after they occur. People are usually aware of problems after they are occurring; such is the case with substance abuse in Eugene and downtown specifically.
Baskerville says we must look at the environment that is allowing the problem to occur and continue. In this case, we need to evaluate the conditions downtown that have allowed the problems of homelessness and substance abuse to degrade the reputation of downtown and detract from the once vibrant culture.
The main problems? Many of the businesses downtown are bars, which encourages those who drink to come downtown while encouraging the homeless to frequent the area, especially between the hours of 1:30 and 3:30 in the morning when drunk people are more willing to give away their spare change. The many vacant buildings allow for the homeless to loiter and beg. For students, higher Blood Alcohol Content levels add to the unsafe culture of drinking to blackout, which can lead to permanent physical damage. Places that serve alcohol around Autzen Stadium have also increased.
For Baskerville, the homeless are only one part of the problem.
“I don’t consider them any more of a problem than the people who come down here Friday and Saturday night to get hammered,” she says.
According to Baskerville, 10-20 percent of the population develop a dependency with drugs and alcohol. For those who drink before the age of 15, they are four to five times more likely to develop a problem. The Planning and Prevention program works to help people navigate through their younger years and be more socially responsible when they party. The program encourages parents to look at their policies at home, since parents are the number one influence in their children’s lives.
Since the program has limited money and few resources, they rely mainly on their website, which provides tools and information parents and children need. Media PSAs, posters, a resource library, support to community groups, and training classes are offered. The classes are provided to the community at a low cost, and topics range from cultural diversity to substance abuse prevention.
While the Department of Health and Human Services is provided for the betterment of the community, they are waiting for the
community to come together. Baskerville views a community coalition as invaluable as it can help mobilize a community and generate awareness of what resources citizens bring to the table. The synergism creates a move to a common goal that has a greater influence on community officials.
Baskerville feels the downtown situation is unfortunate. She retraces the history of downtown, from its community-based events such as First Night, a alcohol and drug-free event on New Year’s Eve, to the community coalition, the entertainment, the absence of streets, and the 5th Street Market where at one time it was a place for local artisans to rent spaces to start building their business. Unfortunately, these positive installments have now disappeared.
As the community becomes increasingly concerned about the culture and reputation of the downtown neighborhood, maybe it’s time to get back to Eugene’s roots of family, entertainment and a celebration of everything local. We need to evaluate what encourages the negative behavior of substance abuse and act accordingly. While city officials and citizens continue to work to solve the problems of downtown, the successes of the past may provide the answer to the problems we face both today and in the future.