EUGENE — The only homeless shelter in the Eugene-Springfield area has cut the number of people it lets in and toughened its drug and alcohol rules.
Executive Director Jack Tripp, who took over two years ago, said those are among changes at the Eugene Mission that include ending a newspaper collection campaign, making chapel voluntary and starting a Christian-based program to help people participate in mental health and addiction counseling and work on other goals.
"I call it the retooling of the Eugene Mission based on God," Tripp told the Eugene Register-Guard. "It's how can we love these guests more by keeping them safe and also giving them the opportunity to get the heck out of here."
The mission hadn't had a major fight or injurious incident, he said, but it can't deal with the "overwhelming number of homeless people in town," including those with drug and alcohol addictions and criminal histories.
"There are always arguments here, but they have become more frequent," he said. "Unless you spend a night here, you don't know what it's like. It can be insane."
The mission operates three centers. The capacity at one for homeless men to spend the night has been reduced from 350 to 285. Its women's center will remain at 60, but the number of people in its Mothers and Children's Center has been cut from 34 to 15.
A couple of months ago, nearly 500 people were staying overnight at the mission, Tripp said. He said the staff "was breaking under the strain of having that many mentally ill people and those with criminal backgrounds here."
The new policy means up to a dozen people are being turned away daily and put on waiting lists.
With 22 paid workers, the mission has relied on shelter residents to carry out tasks and help keep the doors open. However, that meant mission residents supervised other residents during some late-night shifts. Starting next month, Tripp said, each shift will have a staff member in charge.
Previously, penalties for drug and alcohol use or possession were banishment for seven days to two months, or possibly longer. Now, it's automatically 90 days for alcohol, six months for drugs. The mission will conduct random searches and tests, he said.
The newspaper collections added little to the shelter's finances and kept residents from working on their problems, Tripp said. Residents who don't go to chapel services nightly will be expected to observe a quiet hour beginning at 7 p.m.