Downtown Eugene is as eclectic as it gets, just ask Jessica Smith.
“Most everybody’s friendly, and you also get a lot of people from, like, all walks of life, so that’s really neat too,” said Smith, a barista at Eugene Public Library’s Novella Café.
Walking outside the doors of the cafe, near the corner of 10th Avenue and Olive Street, it’s easy to get a sense of what Smith means. In front of the library building, a scruffy looking golden haired dog is at eye level with an equally scruffy looking man in a ball cap. The man looks up with a smile and begins a cheerful conversation with a random passerby.
Such a positive interaction between strangers might lead one to believe that downtown is always a welcoming place to spend time without having to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. However, this is not always the case. People who live, work, or spend leisure time in the area often feel both of these things. It’s those uncomfortable or unsafe experiences that detract from a positive downtown experience.
“The other day I was walking to the car with my friend after dinner, and this woman asked me if I had any spare change because her son had recently been injured, and she needed the money,” University of Oregon student Sonja Shayegh said. “I told her that I didn’t and that I was sorry, and she just like, lashed out. She was like, ‘God forbid anything ever happen to your family.’ It was shocking.”
Shayegh does not live downtown and chooses not to frequent it due to the unsafe feeling she gets from incidents like this, and she’s not alone.
U.S. Bank teller Maureen (last name omitted upon request) believes that downtown is more unsafe than other parts of Eugene because of loiterers and the homeless population. When asked what is being done to combat the issue of safety in the neighborhood, she mentions the Red Hats, more formally known as Downtown Guides of Eugene. Their presence plays an integral role in maintaining a safe downtown atmosphere by responding to the calls of downtown goers who need assistance with anything from directions to warding off loiters.
The Red Hats patrol a ten block area, and are distinguished by their attire—red hats. Like those who spend leisure time downtown, the Red Hats are who the bank and other businesses call when there is a persistent loiterer or a bothersome customer. Though they are not a police force, they are effective in helping to keep safety a priority, according to Maureen.
In addition to the Red Hats, local police are prevalent in the downtown Eugene neighborhood. It is common to see them in pairs, riding bikes down the street, or patrolling around Eugene Station, the central bus stop downtown. They have proven to be vital to the creation of a favorable atmosphere in the neighborhood.
“Seeing a bike cop ride by always puts me at ease around here,” Shayegh said. “It’s nice to know they’re out there.”