Poverty and Crime With a Touch of Hope

Locals express their concerns and optimism for downtown Eugene.

By Samantha Thom

While for many college students downtown is the mecca of bars, dance clubs, and Voodoo Doughnuts, those working and living in the area are feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in their own backyards. While it is common to see homelessness throughout the area, the streets become more unnerving and dangerous at night. Ruth Murphy, a supervisor at the Downtown Athletic Club and University of Oregon student, lives downtown and says she drives to work every day.

“Obviously everything’s really close and I can walk everywhere if I need to… [but] there’s a pretty large homeless problem downtown,” she said. “If you go to certain areas at night it’s really not safe. I don’t like to walk alone.”

She is not alone in her worrying about the night scene. Tiffany Cortez, a bartender at the Horsehead Bar for the last seven years, was mugged on the street four years ago. She was walking by the Barack Obama election office with her fiance when a man confronted them and began distracting them. Another man emerged from an alley behind, knocked her fiancé down, and stole her purse.

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The Horsehead Bar had to be re-keyed after bartender Tiffany Cortez was mugged on the streets of downtown four years ago.

“When I called the police, they said ‘we have real emergencies to deal with, so call us tomorrow’,” she recounts.

Cortez also brings up that while homelessness is indeed a major issue in the area, those pretending they are homeless are just as big of a problem.

“I’d say the younger kids that pretend they’re homeless and probably live in the South Hills,” she said. “They have cell phones and laptops and are begging for money.”

She feels that conditions could improve if truancy officers were more involved and available to resolve the issue.

After volunteering at the Eugene Public Library for the last two years, Marilynn Larson, a retired Eugenian, said that the library isn’t generally a place for conflict or rowdiness.

“Once in awhile we have some unruly people, especially in the winter when they come in to get warm,” she said, “but generally not that much. Our security guard deals with whatever there is. It’s unusual.”

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A volunteer during the day at the Eugene Public Library, Marilynn Larson says that there is more trouble at night.

The biggest problem, in her opinion, is people smoking where they shouldn’t and the frustrations over parking.

“It’s expensive,” she said. “Some places you can park for two hours, but [for] people who are here all day working, it can be an expense.”

On a different note, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for downtown. According to Larson, great things are being done to turn the neighborhood around.

“I’m hoping that the new Lane building [being built across the street] will enliven the area somewhat, “she said. “There’s also discussion about turning the vacant lot [formerly Peace Health] into UO student housing, but there are mixed emotions about that.”

Larson believes that having students living downtown could potentially encourage more people to live there and better the area as a whole. She was very hopeful for the future in that downtown could someday return to the thriving area she moved to in 1989.

“There are things going on down here and hopefully they will help downtown return back to life,” she said.

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