It Takes A Start-Up

The Register Guard | Aug. 18, 2013 1:36 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 18, 2013 8:36 p.m.

Contributed By:

Edward Russo

The gate opened and the people behind Opportunity Village Eugene on Friday took temporary possession of the land where they hope an experimental housing area for the homeless will change lives.

About 100 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the city-owned parcel on Garfield Street, south of Roosevelt Boulevard, where the village will arise in the next few weeks.

It’s meant to be a small community for homeless people, providing them transitional shelter until they can secure their own housing.

Inspired by Portland’s Dignity Village, the pilot housing area is the idea of church leaders, advocates for the homeless and others who formed a private, nonprofit group to make it happen.

“It’s been a long day coming,” Andy Heben, the village’s main designer, told the crowd after they had walked onto the site.

“The plan has evolved significantly over the past year, but the primary principle has remained the same: providing a small place for one’s own home and combining that with shared gathering places.”

In the weeks ahead, volunteers will assemble 60- to 80-square-foot huts and bungalows for people to live in, plus larger communal structures.

The village will be on a one-acre, mostly asphalt lot next to the city Public Works Department’s maintenance yard. The site is in a largely industrial area, a few blocks west of the Eugene Mission.

Seventeen people have been selected as the first village residents.

“It means a lot to me; it gives me hope,” said Toni Florendo, who lives at the Eugene Mission but who will move to the village.

Up to 45 people could reside in the village. Children will not be allowed.

The housing area is supported by donations of cash, materials and labor.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, for example, gave Opportunity Village Eugene $6,000 to buy the wood for six of the first living structures.

Thrivent volunteers had worked with village organizers since June to assemble the floor, wall and roof panels in a nearby warehouse.

On Friday, the panels were brought to the site on trailers and unloaded.

Next week, volunteers will put up the first structures, with church volunteers planning to erect five bungalows.

“We probably have put in hundreds of hours of volunteer time already,” said Cindi Cramblit, a Jasper resident and Thrivent organizer.

Volunteers “are Christians who care about people, and they wanted to donate their time and talent,” she said. “We have a lot people who are experts at construction.”

The Rev. Dan Bryant, president of Opportunity Village Eugene and pastor at First Christian Church, told the crowd that taking possession of the site is a “culmination of a year of effort.”

Even before that, the 2011 Occupy Eugene protest and encampment in Washington-Jefferson Park contributed to the idea by raising consciousness “in this community that we really needed to do something, to provide a place for those who are currently without homes to be,” Bryant said.

The village only may exist at the Garfield site for a year because the city, which is leasing the land to the group for $1, has other plans for the property.

City Councilor Claire Syrett, who represents the area, thanked the leaders of the Trainsong neighborhood association for “participating fully” in the village’s planning.

“It really will serve as an example of community cooperation of how we can all come together to achieve something better than ourselves,” she said.

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