Cascade Views Podcast

Jeff Eager - Bend Humanity Coalition

February 04, 2022 Michael Sipe - Central Oregon Leadership Discussions Season 2022 Episode 3
Cascade Views Podcast
Jeff Eager - Bend Humanity Coalition
Show Notes Transcript

Jeff Eager is a business attorney and former mayor of Bend. He has amassed a loyal following for his blog and newsletter "Oregon Roundup" which blends political commentary with his experience as a lawyer to provide a conservative synthesis of the prominent issues of our time.

I’ve asked Jeff on the show today to share his perspectives on the Oregon state political climate and our transition out of the state’s COVID response. Specifically, I’ve asked him to discuss the issue of homelessness in Central Oregon from the work he’s done with the Bend Humanity Coalition, which is a group of caring Bend citizens working to make our city safe and humane for the both the unhoused and the housed members of the Bend community.

Expect to learn a lot about the homeless issue that most people don't know. 

Narrator:

Welcome to cascade views a discussion with Central Oregon leaders. Your host is Michael site, local business and community leader Best Selling Author of the Avada principle and candidate for Oregon State Representative for House District 53, which encompasses southern Redmon sisters tremolo in northern bend. The purpose of these discussions is to share the views and insights of local leaders from a variety of community sectors on a range of timely and important regional and state issues. With that, now, here's your host Michael site.

Michael Sipe:

Thanks for joining us on cascade views. My name is Michael SIPE, and I'll be your host. My guest today is Jeff eager. Jeff is a business attorney and former mayor of bend. He's amassed a loyal following for his blog and newsletter, then business Roundup, which blends political commentary, with his experience as a lawyer to provide a conservative synthesis of the prominent issues of our time. It's also funny, and all a lot of fun to read. I've asked Jeff on the show today to share his perspectives on the Oregon State political climate and our transition out of the state's COVID response. Specifically, I've asked him to discuss the issue of homelessness in Central Oregon from the work he's done with the bend humanity Coalition, which is a group of caring Ben citizens working to make our city safe and humane for both the unhoused and the House members of the Ben community. So Jeff, welcome to the show.

Jeff Eager:

Thanks, Michael. Great to be here. Hey, to start, how

Michael Sipe:

about giving us a little more insight into your law practice your political background, maybe even a little bit about the newsletter?

Unknown:

Yeah, sure thing. So I put me I've been kind of working in and around politics, since I graduated from college a very long time ago, worked on Capitol Hill for four years after graduating from college, first for former Congressman Bob Smith. And then for Greg Walden, who recently retired from the second district of Oregon, did legislative and press work for Greg came back to Oregon, went to law school at the U of O, and then moved back to band and since that time, I've kind of jointly done legal work and political work, either as an elected official myself, you mentioned I was mayor. And then more recently in a consulting capacity where I help candidates and groups get their their messages out.

Michael Sipe:

So tell me a little bit about the newsletter, though I mentioned it, but it really is a joy to read. And it cuts right to the heart of the matter.

Unknown:

Yeah, it's, I think you've called it the Ben business Roundup, which is what it started as folly five years ago or so it is. It's now broadened out and called the Oregon round up. And I started doing it and the name change kind of alludes to this, I guess, I started doing it kind of as a, frankly, a marketing tool for my law firm, which is a business law firm. And I started writing about kind of business stuff that affected small businesses, medium sized businesses and bend. Over time, I started to introduce more and more politics into it. Because that's what I spend a lot of my time thinking and reading about. And in started writing about things certainly outside of band statewide, and I made the change to calling it the Oregon roundup and now I don't even pretend to write about business stuff for the most part. And, and now it is really about Oregon politics and national politics, some culture. I tried to bring kind of a different perspective than what you would see in most media, especially in Oregon. And I come at issues from kind of a conservative and or libertarian point of view. And I try to put those views into a context that makes sense to normal people who don't obsess about, about politics, and I tried to have some fun along the way.

Michael Sipe:

Well, for those listening who Want to check out the Oregon Roundup? You can find it at Oregon roundup.substack.com, Oregon roundup.substack.com, I think you'll have a lot of fun, as you read what Jeff has to say. We've been on quite a journey. Jeff, for everyone in Oregon. What are your thoughts about how we can best emerge from the state's responses to the pandemic?

Unknown:

That's there's a lot of a lot that goes into the answer to that question. I, first, I think, fundamentally, where Oregon needs to get in Oregon is not unique in this way. But it is maybe among the more extreme states in its response, we need to get beyond the point of thinking that we can in any way any real way control the COVID virus. You know, some of the restrictions that were put in place early on, I think were justified when we didn't really even know what we were looking at. But that time quickly passed. And in Oregon retains some of the most restrictive policies like requiring masking for student for kids in school, requiring masking it all in all indoor spaces. And, and some pretty draconian vaccination requirements, especially for health care workers. And in the data, and this is written quite a bit about this on the Roundup, the data really don't tend to support what what the state has done. So even setting aside this the impact that the state's policies have on depriving people of individual liberties. And I think we should always be reticent to do that. Even setting that aside, just see if the efficacy of the measures is is highly questionable. It's difficult to discern a difference in COVID outcomes between states like Oregon that have a mass mandate and states that don't have a mass mandate, for example. And in Oregon, to its discredit, unlike other states that have kind of abandoned some of those restrictions, Oregon has held on to them. And in spite of the fact that you it's very difficult to discern any benefit, any public health benefit that the state is getting out of it. I think the issue has been highly politicized in Oregon. I think our governor has done a an exceedingly poor job of explaining why she's doing what she's doing. And she's been allowed to rule unilaterally for over two years. Now, well, almost two years now, without any intervention, real intervention from the legislature. And it's it's just a sad state of affairs. And ultimately, though, I think, too, for that to change. The folks that call the shots in this state, many of whom live in Portland, are going to have to get their heads around the idea that no public policy is going to end this thing. And that we have to get on with our lives and treat it as, as an endemic disease, that can be dangerous for some people, but it's not dangerous for most, and take reasonable measures that are consistent with maintaining individual liberty to try to mitigate some of those effects, but but not to take these these draconian steps that Oregon has continued to leave in place.

Michael Sipe:

Well, we're gonna end up hearing a lot about that, I'm sure because we're in a midterm election year and in politics, which has been a more common topic than I ever remember in my whole life. It's going to be an increasing focus in the months to come. Talk to us a little bit about the political climate and what you see are some of the key issues that are going to shape the campaigns and debates ahead of us outside of the the COVID discussion that's clearly going to be front and center. But what are some of the other key issues that are going to shape the campaigns?

Unknown:

I think homelessness will be a big issue in campaigns in throughout the state, really um, you know, homelessness has been a pretty major issue in Portland for a while although it continues to apparently get worse. But now we have a very visible homeless issue. Here in band. I was driving through Redmon yesterday on the way to and from steelhead falls and there are tents along the highway in Redmond, and they have issues like this and Medford, of course in Eugene Salem, etc. So you're having communities that really haven't been haven't had the least of visible homeless problem. Before they now do, and it is front and center for, for many voters in Oregon. I was talking to a pollster a month or two ago, who does polling nationally, but he had pulled in Oregon. And they had done one of these, you know, tell me the the biggest issue facing the state and a huge number of those people the biggest plurality that he has, he told me he had seen in any similar polling previously in any state, a huge percentage of the people responding to the poll said it's homelessness, that that is a big issue. And and justifiably so because we, you know, aside from seeing the tents in the sometimes the the garbage and whatnot, you have people dying in these camps. In bend here, we've had folks die, that we're living in these camps, you have drive by shootings, in Bend, and all manner of criminality in Portland and elsewhere. And so it's really a front and center issue for voters. And I think it is going to drive a lot of a lot of election outcomes come to midterm. I think in addition to homelessness, inflation is a big deal. It's a big deal nationally, it's a big deal in Oregon. People see what see what gas prices are people see what what food costs when you can find food in the grocery store. People see what it costs to go out to eat now compared to what it was in, all of those things are up dramatically. And in for a state like Oregon, where the margin between housing prices and what people make for a living is smaller than most in any other state because our housing prices are so high, and our wages are so low. People feel that pretty acutely. So I think that those issue, that kind of inflationary stuff, school closures, homelessness, crime, all those things are kind of bound in together with what I think is a is an electorate that is increasingly concerned about the direction of the state.

Michael Sipe:

Well, you've been working on this quite a bit. And specifically with the bend humanity coalition, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Unknown:

Sure. The Bend humanity coalition is a nonprofit that started last year. And its focus is advocating for the city of BAM to take a different approach to homelessness to address some of those problems that that I just talked about. And really its underlying premise, Ben humanity coalition's underlying premise is that, and it's in the name is that the current approach is not anything like humane, that it is inhumane to create an environment where people are invited to destroy their lives and sometimes literally die on on your streets. All in the name of trying to be compassionate to them. It's the least compassionate set of policies that the city could have with regard to homelessness. And, and what needs to happen, we believe is that the city needs to stop tolerating and even encouraging, in some cases, camping in public spaces in these places where we know that that folks are not safe, where they are. They're victims of violent crime. They're many, many of them are on our drugs in these camps, and really, the city government has, has put us in, in a position as taxpayers in Bend to subsidize the destruction of these people's lives. And it's, it's a bad set of policies in it, it needs it needs to change.

Michael Sipe:

Can you comment a little bit on measure 110? And, and what's what's transpired after that passed and and do you have any comments on whether that has an impact on what's going on or not?

Unknown:

Sure. Um, some ballot measure 110 was a ballot measure that Oregon voters supported by a 60 to 40 margin in November of 2020. In it decriminalized hard drugs. In the state of Oregon, Oregon's the first state to have done this. And basically what that means is, if you're caught with the police catch it with a non what they call a non commercial amount of drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. In other words, the amount they assume is for personal use not for sale. And previous to ballot measure 110, there was a possibility you would face jail or prison time as a result of that, of your being arrested with that stuff. Now, with 110 in place, what the police can do is give you a ticket that says I can do a park air traffic ticket that's up to $100 in the ticket includes information about how to call a statewide toll free hotline to get to get kind of in touch with treatment, or really to get in that first call, an assessment of kind of whether you need treatment or not. The Oregon judicial department has released some data from the date that 110 went into the into effect, which was February 1 of 21, through the end of 2021. And in during that period of time, there were about 1800, a little more than 1800 people that were involved in the measure 110 citation process. And that's that's a remarkably small number, given the scope of the drug problem in Oregon, Multnomah County only issued something like 100 citations in those 11 months. And in what's happening is in many of the counties of Oregon, police just aren't even bothering because they know that first of all, the people aren't going to show up in court, they're not going to pay their their fine. And they're not going to avail themselves of the treatment options that the measure was supposed to make available to them. And that's in fact, what's happened even in the the small, relatively small number of people who've been ticketed, the 1800 Plus only 55 of those people have gone through the the telephone evaluation process and assessment process. And of those as of October 25 of last year. So a couple years, a couple months short of the end of the year, only eight had requested information about treatment. I don't know how many actually entered treatment as a result of the of having contacted the toll free line. But we know that eight as of October 25 had asked for, for that information. And so what's going on is that the measure 110 was sold as you know, we need to stop punishing people who are addicted to to drugs. And we need to instead of punishing them make more available to them treatment options to help them get off the addiction. And it's that's not not, I think for a lot of Oregonians that carries a decent that argument carried a decent amount of weight. You know, I think a lot of Oregonians and a lot of people generally don't think you should necessarily be punished, because you happen to be addicted to drugs. The problem is that the approach that's contained in measure 110 just isn't working. Those numbers I just cited about only 55 people having gone through the evaluation process demonstrates kind of the weakness of that of that problem. So what's going what's happening is that people indeed are not being punished anymore in the form of potential jail time for possession. But they also aren't being connected with improved treatment that was supposed to replace incarceration and in the state already has spent, I think $31 million in in new money that measure 110 allocated from the cannabis tax fund on additional treatment. And in at least the numbers that arise from the citations certainly don't demonstrate that the that that money has has had much of an effect in terms of taking people that come into contact with the police and are in possession of hard drugs. It's just not working. It's not they're not getting hooked up with the treatment, the treatment that we need and the hard drug his situation is getting much worse. In Oregon at the same time, half halfway through 2021, which is the most recent data we have. There were nearly as many methamphetamine overdose deaths as there were for all of 2020. And in the first half of 2021, there were more fentanyl deaths than in all of 2020. Now, those those trends existed before the decriminalization went into place. But it's hard to imagine that the decriminalization has helped matters, especially as we're seeing in the case of fentanyl, and the new type of methamphetamine that's apparently out on the streets and predominant out. Those are more lethal than even the hard drugs that you heard about a few years ago. And more difficult for people to get off. If they even had the had the inclination to do it. There is a tie in between these hard drugs. This hard drug crisis in the homelessness crisis we talked about, in 2021, Multnomah County, which of course is home to Portland, ran some numbers in of the people who died while homeless in in Multnomah County, in 2021 90% of them had hard drugs in their system when they died, or their death was related to hard drugs in some way. So these, these twin crises of the hard drug epidemic and the end homelessness are hand in hand, and the state's not doing a very good job of addressing either one.

Michael Sipe:

You're talking about running numbers as a business guy. Couple of numbers you just mentioned to me just they make me cringe. So so we had out of out of the efforts in the last year, apparently eight inquiries, and spent $31 million. So that's $3.9 million per inquiry.

Unknown:

If you think yes, that's, that's true. Now, the supporters of the measure in kind of supporters of that approach, the decriminalization approach would point out and correctly so that not all the $31 million dollars were spent on treatment that is necessarily targeted at people who are cited for drug possession. In theory, those dollars also go to go to fund other programs, many of which are described by the supporters as harm reduction measures, like giving out clean needles to drug addicts giving methadone to drug addicts, etc. So they the In fairness, the benefit of the spending, if there is any, wouldn't only be seen in in the number of sighted individuals who avail themselves of information about treatment. But to the degree measure 10 was sold largely 110 was sold largely as a, you know, replacing this punitive incarceration regime with one that provides optional voluntary treatment to two people, it's it's pretty clearly failing right now.

Michael Sipe:

Well, we're going to wrap up here in a minute. But here's the big question. Everybody's asking, Where do we go from here with this? Like, what do we do? And? And what are some of the challenges and impediments to action? What are your thoughts after studying this now for a year or so or more?

Unknown:

Um, I think that, you know, at a fundamental level, we need to as a state and in to a degree nationally, although some states have this figured out a lot better than Oregon, when we need to under come to an understanding that these these hard drugs that exist now, they don't, they don't allow for people in most cases to make rational decisions for themselves. And that was the case with hard drugs forever, and arguably less hard drugs like alcohol. But this in my based on what I've learned, the new math in fentanyl in particular. They render the people that use them largely incapable of making even remotely good decisions for themselves. And so to the degree that you are offering people optional treatment, or you're you're offering people who are homeless and living in a tent on the street or on the sidewalk, the option to go into a sheltered environment. The majority of them the vast majority of them are not going to take advantage of Those services, because one of their primary goals because of their addiction is to stay on drugs. And in taking advantage of treatment, or going into a shelter environment, where drugs are not allowed, keeps them from being able to do those drugs. And so ultimately, to address these kind of twin crises that Oregon is facing, we need to wrap our heads around the fact that volunteerism probably isn't going to work. And I think our experience so far in this state has, has has demonstrated that in that context, then you have to remove, you have to remove the options that currently exist for people to continue to use drugs, and to continue to live on the streets. And that looks quite frankly, like a, you know, on the drug side of things, you know, I don't think anyone's jumping at the, at the, the opportunity to throw someone in prison for long term for long term for possession of drugs. But mandatory treatment is, is something that probably under in this environment would work a lot better than voluntary treatment. And similarly with regard to homelessness, if you continue to make it possible for people to live on the streets, and those who are on drugs, use drugs, and, and in be victims of crimes, sometimes commit crimes themselves and kind of, frankly, make the community less, less desirable and less safe. If you continue to make that available to them, they'll they'll do it. And so you have to remove those choices, because we know how harmful they are for the people that that end up making them, but also how harmful they are for the rest of us in in a community and in our state who who suffered the consequences of those decisions. And so I think it's it's really kind of a fundamental change of mentality that that needs to be needs to occur in Oregon. And unfortunately, I think we're a ways away from that.

Michael Sipe:

I would agree. These are obviously huge, huge topics contentious. It's complicated. We could probably go on for a long time today exploring these but we need to wrap up our discussion for today. I hope we can do this again soon. Because I'd love to dive into this a little bit deeper. I'll get a list of questions here. Based on what you just said, I was jotting down some notes. And then I realized that that would take us all day. So I better I better wrap up. So let's do this again real soon. It's been a pleasure having you on the show. My main takeaway out of this as your comments on on measure 110 and and really what's transpiring with that. And so, thanks very much for your time and your message today,

Unknown:

Jeff. Sure, thanks. Thanks, Mike. Appreciate you having me on.

Michael Sipe:

You bet my guest today has been Jeff eager. You can learn more about Jeff's informative, insightful and funny newsletter at Oregon roundup.substack.com, Oregon roundup.substack.com You can also learn more about the Ben humanity coalition at Ben humanity coalition.org that's been humanity coalition.org I'd urge you to check out the work that they're doing and also subscribe to the news newsletter. So thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.