Major Egan's Tragic Death in 2008 Spurred a Community to Action

I was honored to speak at the annual memorial service for Major Tom Egan on December 18th. Here are my remarks:

This is the first year I have been able to participate in this formal ceremony marking the death of Major Egan but every year since his death I have taken a moment to remember him including coming to this spot to reflect on the terrible circumstance of his last night. Here at the end of this industrial street, alone and cold Tom Egan died in the snow just a few blocks from where I slept safe and warm in my home. Because of the impact his death had on me along with hundreds of other caring people in our community we have worked to better our community and try to ensure that no one else suffers a similar fate. Out of his passing the Egan Warming Centers were born and hundreds of people have found shelter and sustenance through the heroic efforts of hundreds of volunteers and staff. 

Today we are taking the time to honor those dedicated, remarkable volunteers and staff who each year from mid-November to mid-March rise to the occasion when temperatures drop below 30 degrees and spend their evenings feeding and sheltering homeless men and women at faith-based institutions throughout the community. We have come together to honor the organizations, government and nonprofit agencies and generous donors who work together to ensure that the Egan Center has what it needs to get the job done.

But the true reason we gather here at this spot on this day is to remember a particular individual who tragically and needlessly died on the streets of our city on the morning of Dec. 18, 2008. And in remembering Major Tom Egan and his life, we are prompted to remember that the hundreds of  unsheltered people in our community, who can so easily be ignored, forgotten or dismissed are also particular individuals – whose individual life circumstances have brought them to be included in that most cruel of demographic categories – homeless.  By remembering Major Tom Egan and his humanity we reaffirm the humanity of our neighbors who have no permanent shelter as people who deserve care, consideration and compassion.

As president of the Eugene City Council this past year and a long standing member of the Human Services Commission, I have been proud to play a small role in the city’s efforts to help and protect our unsheltered neighbors.  In the past two years the Eugene city council has taken several small but significant steps to provide more options for temporary and emergency shelter for people in need. Opportunity Village is inspiring communities across the country to look at new models for transitional housing. Our Rest Stop program has provided shelter, safety and community to those who would otherwise have been vulnerable and alone. In the past two weeks the city created the Dusk to Dawn program that will provide overnight safe sleeping spots for dozens of individuals who have no other options. And our city-wide Car Camping program continues to benefit individuals and families by providing them with a safe secure space to live while they seek permanent housing.  In a landscape of limited funding we have taken steps meant to bring temporary relief while we continue to work collaboratively with our partner Lane County to secure more resources for permanent shelter. Our Rest Stop,  Dusk to Dawnand Car Camping programs have to potential to serve even moreindividuals if we can gain public support to add more sites.

Of course the best way to fight homelessness is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. This is why I continue to advocate for a raise in the minimum wage in our state as we know many people dealing with homelessness are actually employed but unable to afford stable housing. These hard working Oregonians don’t want government handouts and in some cases won’t seek them even when they qualify. They deserve a wage that lets them provide for themselves and their families when working a full time job. But we also know that there are many people living on our streets who will need on-going community support and protection. People experiencing persistent mental illness must be provided with protective shelter and support given their extreme vulnerably when left on the street.

I believe in the power of government, our collective voice in action, to improve the lives of those in need. But I am not so naive as to think government alone can or should be the answer. Private non-profits, faith based action and grass-roots community efforts are all needed in order to address this crises. This community has a huge and generous heart. I know that if we can align our goals and coordinate our efforts we can have a meaningful impact on the lives of the people currently living without shelter and provide them with the dignity of a safe and permanent home. With the memory of Major Egan’s tragic death to prompt  us I know we are up to the task and I look forward to joining in the work ahead with all of you here and the hundreds of others who step up daily to help make Eugene a more just and compassionate community. Thank you.

Great Victory for Workers in SEIU PeaceHealth Union Vote

On Thursday May 28th workers at PeaceHealth voted overwhelmingly to form a union, joining the Service Employees International Union, the largest health care union in the nation. With over 80% of workers participating in the vote, food service workers, janitors, technicians and other workers will now enjoy the kind of workplace power and democratic representation that can only be secured with a union contract. It is too bad that PeaceHealth, a non-profit faith based hospital, chose to take the typical for-profit corporate line in their response to the vote. Instead of decrying the choice of their worker's to join the union they could have celebrated the empowerment of their employees. Congratulations to the 1,100 workers who now have a voice at work and join the nurses and doctors at Peacehealth as part of the union family.

Testifying on Statewide Paid Sick Time

I had recently had the privilege to speak before a senate committee in Salem considering a statewide paid sick time law. As a leader the successful campaign to pass earned paid sick time for all Eugene workers I was proud to share the Eugene City Council's resolution calling upon the state legislature to pass a statewide law that is as good or better than Eugene's. All workers in our state deserve to have access to this basic workplace protection regardless of the size of their employer's business. Eugene's ordinance is set to go into effect on July 1st unless we delay to accommodate changes in a future state law. Once in effect workers in Eugene will have the ability to earn 1 hour of paid time off for every 30 hours they work whether they are full time or part time. Time off can be used to care for yourself or a family member, go to a medical appointment or deal with a domestic violence situation. Eugene can be proud to have passed the strongest paid sick time law in the nation!

State of the City 2015

I hope you appreciate this year's 2015 State of the City program statement.

As I reflect on both the accomplishments achieved and the challenges faced by our city  in 2014, I feel that Eugene can be proud of our record this past year. Personally I can point to the historic passage of Eugene’s earned paid sick time ordinance as a landmark achievement for my own goals as an elected leader and for our city’s workers. With the adoption of this important law, Eugene became the smallest city in the nation to adopt such a progressive and beneficial policy and laid down a marker for what it means to be a leader in protecting public health and working families. Eugene’s ordinance will help workers stay healthy and financially whole while improving productivity and stability in the workplace. It is a signature achievement we can build upon as we continue to help working families achieve greater economic parity and strengthen our middle class.

Even as we celebrate our accomplishments we must continue the important work of helping those who struggle with homelessness. In this arena I am grateful that Mayor Piercy has made this a priority by serving on the newly formed Poverty and Homelessness Board that includes Lane County and the City of Springfield. Through this board and other initiatives Eugene’ mayor and city manager have already helped direct more resources and energy towards increase our region’s emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing capacity so that we can get more people off the streets and into stable safe housing. This is in addition to the many programs we already support with thousands of dollars in general funds and community development grants.

Of course there are still many other important issues to be addressed and causes to champion including establishing a railroad quiet zone, promoting economic development and community planning in the underserved parts of our city, especially within Ward 7, and continuing to seek stable funding for our parks, libraries and neighborhood services. I look forward to working with my fellow city councilors on these and other initiatives in 2015 and beyond. 

Happy Labor Day Eugene!

Eugene really has something special to celebrate on this Labor Day. I am so proud of our city for passing Eugene's historic earned paid sick time ordinance and of Eugene residents for embracing it. Lots of hard work went into getting the 5 - 3 vote in favor of the new law that will give the hardest working hourly workers in our town a little more dignity, healthier working conditions, and much needed security. I am committed to making sure this is only the first of many more worker-friendly policies implemented to re-build our middle class and re-balance the scales of our economic system. Let's keep the momentum going!