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Churchill Divide

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There is a place on Bailey Hill Rd. where the view of Churchill in Eugene, Ore., is complex. The high school sits on acres of sports fields that look like they have not been watered in weeks, kids are trying to drag their parents to get a sticker at the fire station, the bare plaza across the street is about half-occupied with businesses, the hills up to the right are scattered with mansions, and five minutes away in a car will reach a Fred Meyer, Target, Wal-Mart and every fast-food place imaginable. This community has a lot to offer, but a lot of problems as well.


One of the houses off of 18th street, a main stretch through Churchill, offered its porch to a woman smoking a cigarette while her son, who looked about six years old, was naked running around inside her house. The neighborhoods where this took place consist of one-story homes, brown lawns and uneven pavement. Most of the neighborhoods that are on the outskirts of 18th St., are simple, tightly placed, rundown, and consist of several apartment buildings.


In contrast to these crowded neighborhoods, most residents mention the south hills that are home to millionaires. These neighborhoods were developed only about five years ago and sit on special lots with views for miles.  Some three houses even share their own gate just to access their driveways. This explains the vision of the mansions from Bailey Hill Rd.


Jason Crane, manager of DS Market & Deli across the street from Churchill High School, elaborated on the diversity within the community. He interacts with customers on a daily basis and has become familiar with the setting and habits of residents.


“There’s a high crime rate and high drug use,” said Crane. He recognizes almost everyone that comes into the market, and witnesses a lot that goes on in the streets and parking lots surrounding the area.  Crane said that there are very diverse groups of people ranging from gang members to neuron surgeons to happy families; “But they all say hi to each other,” he said. He noted how Churchill is different from other areas because of the groups of people that live there and how they interact. For someone who sees people in the neighborhood on a regular basis, Crane made it evident that the diversity of the community is something that is well known.


A couple doors down in the same plaza sits the only restaurant in Churchill, Koho Bistro. One of the co-owners, Angela Chan, also recognizes the diversity. Chan grew up in Churchill and has witnessed the changes over the years. She explained how most of her clientele are people 40 to 50 years old. The restaurant offers an experience in dining with coursed meals and a full bar with cocktails made from scratch. Chan hopes to bring more life to the somewhat empty plaza. Yet she has faced some challenges such as several break-ins in the past year. She has become accustomed with the crime in the area and installed louder alarms and security cameras in hopes of preventing further problems, but still loves the area and resides there with her husband.


Since the beginning of April, there has been 17 alleged thefts, six accounts of vandalism and three shootings. That is just according to the Spot Crime map of alleged crimes from incident reports. It is no wonder that Koho Bistro is a target for a break-in. Chan, resident of Churchill, keeps a positive attitude about her business and is excited to help the plaza get more attention.


Not only is Churchill home to diverse groups of people, but a welcoming spot for homeless people. In 2011 there was a total of 2,140 people counted in the Lane County One Night Homeless Count. Eugene is a popular place for homeless people to migrate due to the high volume of free resources available. In Lane County alone there are 18 low-price to free clinics that offer medical and dental care. Churchill is an attractive spot for homeless people with its many parks, open land and health centers that offer free care. Churchill High School has its own free medical care clinic that is open 20 hours a week for students who are in need and cannot afford regular health care or do not have medical insurance.


One perspective that sees all of the diversity in Churchill comes from the firefighters at Station 10. When they drive around they notice how the nicer neighborhoods even have smoother roads, the homeless people gravitate toward Acorn Park Rd, and there are some of the wealthiest people and some of the poorest. Tim Zerr elaborated on the community divide and how people who live in the south hills have a lot of community meetings and are not very tight knit with the rest of the community due to the diversity. The firefighters all agreed that they get numerous calls from homeless people wanting a ride and using their pain as an excuse to call 9-1-1 even though it is not serious enough for medical attention. On the other hand there are wealthy, old people who call 9-1-1 for medical attention and then use it for smaller assistances. They really see two extremes. They said their station is known for getting calls that have a wide variety of situations. Whether it be the age differences or level of urgency, they are reminded of the community divide every day.


Captain Derek Grafton made a good point about the cycle of people, “Less younger families are moving in, so this creates a demographic shift,” Grafton said. The budget in Churchill seems to be a problem, and there is not enough money flow throughout the community. For example how the south hill neighborhoods are only about five years old and sit upon acres of untouched land that has potential for more homes to be built.  


Will the Churchill neighborhood ever even out economically and demographically? There may not be any way to predict the outcome of the neighborhood in the next decade, let alone the next year. One minute someone could be thinking that the wealthy people in Churchill could eventually take over the majority of the population, while on the other hand more and more homeless people could flood in and create a serious problem.


This community divide creates a sense of detachment from people within the area and almost separates them into categories; The homeless, the rich people in the south hills, the middle-class and the drug addicts who are just getting by.  In the end, though, what difference does it make? People seem to enjoy their daily routine and have chosen a lifestyle in a place that fits their needs. If it were not for the split in this neighborhood it would not be known for its diversity. If there were not as many homeless people, there would not be as many giving people willing to help them. The residents embrace these differences and have adapted to the changes around them. Yes, the Churchill community has problems and areas of trouble, but it has a lot to offer and as long as everyone knows this fact, then life can go on without any worries. 


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