Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Viewpoint in the Register Guard

Finding that first home for the homeless

Eugene has accomplished much to address homelessness. Our level of services, our innovation and our volunteerism are well recognized.
Even so, we need to respond to the growing needs of the homeless with new and additional answers.
We need to do so because many remain unhoused and are beyond the capacity of our current services. We need to do so because our businesses, law enforcement agencies, health care system and neighborhood parks are being affected.
Our economic woes call for new resourcefulness and ingenuity. They demand that we try something new to reduce costs, respond to needs and put ourselves in the best position possible to deal with this economy. There is a need for a pragmatism that aids the homeless and protects the livability of our community.
It is the kind of hard challenge a community such as Eugene has the intellectual capital to meet. The Eugene City Council will be addressing a new project at its work session at noon Wednesday.
Opportunity Village Eugene is Eugene’s newest, cutting-edge tool for carving a new piece in the local housing puzzle that is both pragmatic and compassionate. Increased houselessness and decreased taxes have left Eugene and the rest of the country in a quagmire that demands out-of-the-box thinking.
We can no longer suggest that the homeless “get a job”; there are not enough jobs to get. We can no longer tell them to “go away,” for there is no legal place for them to go, especially to sleep legally.
Despite our proud history, we do not have enough housing to meet the increased need. That has caused problems both for those who are houseless and for everyone else.
Police, courts and jails are jammed with those who commit victimless crimes, including the crime of sleeping. Emergency rooms, hospitals and psychiatric wards are overrun with people whose illnesses are caused by living in the elements and by denial of early stage health care.
We are all coming to terms with the fact that homelessness is a very expensive business, and that in order for the homeless to “go away,” they must have some place to go.
Opportunity Village will begin with one democratically organized “neighborhood” of 30 homeless residents, plus a few mentors who will live with them on-site. There will be around-the-clock security within the village and at the single entry gate. There will be absolutely zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol and violence.
Members of the permaculture and alternative housing communities have been working on plans for the village to grow its own organic food, provide walkways, handle drainage issues and build small-footprint shelters that eventually can become part of the Eugene’s already sanctioned backyard camping program.
Business leaders will help residents develop micro-businesses to provide some income. An important aspect of Opportunity Village is the building of community and the setting of realistic expectations for a lifestyle the residents can accomplish and sustain as they make a transition out of the village.
Opportunity Village Eugene is now forming a 501(c)(3) organization in response to the recommendation of the Opportunity Eugene Task Force on Homelessness to provide a place “to be,” a 24/7 community that provides a legal place to sleep and live. It will not be a depressing blemish, nor will it be dependent on handouts and tax dollars. To get started, it needs land from the city and donations from the community.
But by growing its own food, creating its own cottage industries, building and living in its own micro-housing and moderating its own safety and security, it will become self-managed and self-sufficient under the oversight of the new 501(c)(3). As a socially and ecologically sustainable community, it will be a source of pride to any neighborhood by offering safe housing to economic refugees, many of whom have worked steadily for the last 20 years but suddenly are unemployed or bankrupt due to health bills.
Opportunity Village will give people a chance to take responsibility once again for their own lives and to make the transition from the village back into the larger community with the self-confidence and tools necessary to succeed. Opportunity Village is a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “teach a man to fish” kind of place that will help those who are determined to help themselves. It will, through helping those most at risk, help conserve our tax resources and build a stronger, healthier community for us all.
Opportunity Village currently is working with churches, schools, neighborhood associations and neighbors to find our first home. It truly takes a village to build a village. The first implementation of Opportunity Village will lead other neighborhoods to want the same resource. Opportunity Village is a “yes in my backyard” model for the future.
Jean Stacey is interim chairwoman of the steering committee for Opportunity Village Eugene (op.village@gmail.com).