Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eugene's Homeless Solutions Ecology

A "rest area" provides a safe place to sleep for the unhoused with less commitment than a "transitional village" like Eugene's Opportunity Village.  Its a similar concept to a highway rest area, but instead services those with no place else to go in urban areas.  The camps include two distinct populations: hosts and overnighters. Hosts can stay at the site regularly and enforce a basic set of community agreements.  Overnighters are a more transient population that can check-in with a host each night for a safe place to sleep.  The idea is to serve more sectors of the unhoused population.

This concept originated with Portland's Right 2 Dream Too, which formed just a few blocks from the local Occupy camp in 2011.  The informal community has formed an excellent manual for how to operate this kind of service.  Read their operating manual here.

Right 2 Dream Too; Photo From Street Roots

In October 2013, the City of Eugene passed a "rest area" ordinance allowing up to 15 people to camp on city approved sites.  The first site opened just down the street from Opportunity Village in late December, known as the Eugene Safe Spot, which features tent platforms and Conestoga huts.

Eugene Safe Spot; Photo from Register Gaurd

An "sanctuary camp" known as Whoville prompted the passage of this ordinance by city council.  The tent city has been forced to migrate to several different locations, but has since found sanctuary for four months on a piece of left-over public land at an intersection near downtown.  The site has reached physical capacity with 40-50 people camping there along with gathering and cooking spaces.  Port-a-pots, hand washing stations, and trash collection is funded by a local non-profit known as the Nightingale Collective.  The community has vowed to stick together and move to a different site if the city follows through with eviction.


Interestingly, this site adjacent to the University of Oregon was identified by the city council as one of the potential sites for a rest area, but it was not one of the first two sites approved for the initial pilot project.  As a result the city has pursued eviction of Whoville, but in a slow and careful manner. Activists have threatened a law suit if the city does not provide a legal alternative based on the grounds of Jones v. City of Los Angeles, which prohibited the city from punishing "involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping" that is a consequence of being "human and homeless without shelter."  A symbolic step was taken last week when the city removed the "no camping" sign and replaced it with a "no trespassing" sign, justifying arrest instead of citation.  The sign was "misplaced" the following day.  A few days later, a fence was raised around the site with a couple gaps so that residents could still come and go.

Fence going up at Whoville

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Village BathHouse

Alas, the most anticipated feature of Opportunity Village is up and flushing!  At just 112 square feet, the Village BathHouse may be the most efficient structure we've built yet.  It includes two flush toilets with sinks, shower, water heater, and washer/dryer units.  The structure will be shared by the 30 tiny houses in the transitional village, and is divided into 4 separate entrances for convenience and privacy.  Maybe best of all, the whole thing can be moved on a standard 8.5x16 trailer... though we're hoping not to have to move it any time soon.  

A video tour of the facility is provided below followed from some photographs of the construction process.

Design submitted to and approved by the city.

Connecting the water line from the street.
Loading the modular panels we built in the shop onto the boom truck.
Floor built with all plumbing internalized for transportability.
Putting up the wall panels.

View of village from inside.

Finished! (still needs some paint)

The Village BathHouse was designed and built by Backyard Bungalows along with help from village residents and community volunteers.  A special thanks to John the Plumber and Think Electric for their contributions.

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Affordable Village

The establishment of Opportunity Village as a transitional housing project in Eugene, Oregon has led many to ask, "where are they to transition to?"  Some have found stable income and have been able to make the transition back to conventional housing, but it is clear that this may not be a realistic, long-term solution for everyone.  So, while Opportunity Village is intended to be a stepping stone to more permanent living situations, it also strives to catalyze a more sustainable vision of what those situations may look like.

The "affordable village" can provide permanent housing based upon a similar village model.  The dwellings would be slightly larger with utility hook-ups, and residents would pay a modest rent or mortgage.  A goal is for the cost to be similar to government subsidized housing, without the assistance.  Below is an initial concept plan for what this could look like:

The return to the village scale is evident elsewhere in society as well.  The spread of eco-village and cohousing developments represent a recent shift in this direction.  But these places are often exclusive in that they tend to be pursued only by those with a strong, existing commitment to social and ecological consciousness.  This is great, because those people are awesome, but I believe we need to expand the demographic living in this way, and that will take something new.

I want to build something for people that maybe don't have such strong beliefs, but just want something affordable and come to live more sustainably as a result.  Not because they are into permaculture but because they simply have few material needs.  If people are content living in tiny houses, why don't we capture that and build upon it?  Doing so could blur the lines between the housed and the unhoused, where the two finally begin to converge rather than diverge.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Exploring the Sanctuary Camp Concept

An excellent mini-documentary on sanctioned tent cities and villages in the Pacific Northwest.  The film was a project by Jeremy Leonard and Brent Adams in an effort to establish a similar "sanctuary camp" in Santa Cruz, California.  The following places are covered:

1:30 | Eugene, OR | Whoville
5:21 | Eugene, OR | Opportunity Village
10:24 | Portland, OR | Right 2 Dream Too
12:28 | Portland, OR | Dignity Village
15:17 | Olympia, WA | Camp Quixote
20:10 | Olympia, WA | Quixote Village
23:22 | Seattle, WA | Tent City 3

Monday, January 6, 2014

Quixote Village in Olympia, WA

"Olympia's homeless win struggle for housing"
By Ken Butigan on January 3, 2014
Reprinted with permission from Waging Nonviolence
In 2007 members of the homeless community in Olympia, Wash., erected a tent city in a downtown parking lot to protest the lack of services and support. Predictably, the city government responded with arrests and shutting down the encampment. That was supposed to be the end of it. Camp Quixote, though, did not disappear. Instead it embarked on a challenging, circuitous journey that at times must have seemed like some 21st century version of the mad misadventures of its visionary namesake, Don Quixote. Now, against all odds, this six-year pilgrimage has paid off, and Camp Quixote has become Quixote Village: an innovative compound of 30 small cottages and a community center. On December 24, the campers moved in — homeless no more.
Nonviolent action is often dismissed as quixotic: utopian, dreamy, pursuing unreachable goals. But this example underscores how idealism is crucial to making real and practical change, though not always in the way one first imagines. The nonviolent resistance that the homeless women and men of Olympia organized did not change city officials’ minds, but it prompted allies in the community to come forward. A local church offered space for the encampment, and public support grew. The city was persuaded to pass an ordinance to allow the camp to exist, though with the stipulation that it would have to move every three months. Other churches stepped up, and over the past six years the encampment moved over 20 times.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Florida's Tent City Geography

Oscala, Florida has proposed a sanctioned homeless camp modeled after Pinellas Hope, just over 100 miles south in Pinellas County.  But the proposed Open Arms Village has faced significant opposition.

Pinellas Hope, managed by Catholic Charities, was established after an impromptu tent city was slashed to the ground in downtown St. Petersburg.  The site is several miles out of town at the end of an industrial road.  While it is the only legal tent city in the U.S. not along the West Coast, it has largely be portrayed as an attempt to rid the city of the homeless.  

It is a rare example of a tent city that is vertically organized rather than self-managed.   In my visit to the site, I found it to resemble a traditional homeless shelter, only outdoors.  Some have questioned the motives of Catholic Charities, who received a large grant for the project that was tied to successful results.  A former volunteer writes, "Faith based rehabilitation is big business in Florida... Make no mistake that place is run like a business, and the business model is based on privately run jails."

Graphic by "Stop Tent City" campaign.
Catholic Charities tried to emulate the Pinellas Hope model in neighboring Hilsborough County back in 2009, after news of informal tent cities sprouting in the area.  But organized opposition led a "Stop Tent City" campaign and the plan was ultimately rejected

Florida has proven to be a fascinating geography for the tent city movement, both geographically and politically.  In fact, it is home to 4 of the top 10 meanest cities toward the homeless in the country. 

A warm climate attracts large numbers of homeless migrants from cold weather in the north.  Strict anti-homeless laws have been adopted to detract this.  A population that has "earned" their retirement is unapoligetically hostile.  And charitable organizations are pushing the business of faith-based rehabilitation to capitalize on it all.