Nomads and Needles: Whiteaker Residents Speak Up

Locals reflect on improvements of the Whiteaker, as well as problems the neighborhood still faces. 

By Cari Johnson

Kevin Maclean has lived in the Whiteaker neighborhood since 1983.

“Back in the early 1990’s there was an open Heroin Market right down the street, open 24/7,” Maclean said. “Guys right out on the street.”

While it’s easy to spot hip breweries and eateries in the Whiteaker, residents have expressed a deeper view of the fast-changing neighborhood. Some locals are convinced that there are no issues – while many others are concerned over drug abuse and the homeless population.

Part of the drug problem is being encouraged by local rehabilitation clinics, explained Amber Bingham, a new bartender at the Tiny Tavern.

“People come over to this park over here and give out free clean needles and pick up dirty ones,” Bingham said. “That’s just saying its ok to do this.”

JESCO Club Inc. has recently been handing out clean needles at Scobert Park to combat the AIDS epidemic. The Whiteaker neighborhood is home to many social service organizations for drug abusers and the homeless population, including the Eugene Mission, JESCO, Living Solutions, and Willamette Family.

JESCO Club Inc., located on 340 Blair St., is a private drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

“Things like the Buckley center, detox centers, halfway houses – they all tend to get clumped in this neighborhood” Maclean said. “…It leads to a lot of crime, and also just a perception on some people’s part that it’s a dangerous neighborhood”

Maclean speaks from experience, as he lived in the East Blair Housing Co-Op for ten years. “They’re doing great things as far as low income people being able to be housed,” he said.

“We have a lot of caravans, a lot of nomads staying inside of their vans…” resident Alisha Walls said, who is a worker for Democracy Resources.

Walls lives in a dense area of mobile homes, where she has continuously witnessed inappropriate disposal of human waste.

“We’ve had feces in our alleyway,” Walls said. “And where we play Frisbee is constantly getting urinated on.”

Drug use and homelessness are not new to the Whiteaker neighborhood. Many residents have argued that when compared to the 80s and 90s, the neighborhood has cleaned up considerably.

“I think it’s just going to get better and better down here, really,” Felix Epperson said, an artist at Black Lotus Tattoo. “Yeah there are a bunch of weirdos, but it’s colorful.”

John Karroll, a U.S. Postal carrier, has been delivering mail in the Whiteaker for approximately 20 years. Karroll explained that, “it’s not really the neighborhood,” but the problem resides with the select individuals that struggle with drug use.

“It’s so much better off than it was before, that I couldn’t begin to identify problems,” Karroll said.

Kevin Maclean has been a resident of the Whiteaker neighborhood for almost thirty years.

Maclean grinned as he watched several individuals dance in the Red Barn parking lot.

“The Whiteaker is a great neighborhood to live in,” he said with a chuckle.

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