Monday, August 6, 2012

Special OVE Event - August 14

On August 14th Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) will host an event with special guest speaker Mark Lakeman.  The event is scheduled from 7-9pm at the UnitarianUniversalist Church in Eugene (1685 West 13th Ave.)

Mark Lakeman is the principle and design lead of Communitecture, a Portland based architecture and planning firm.  He is also the co-founder of the City Repair Project, a non-profit organization that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live.

City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. The many projects of City Repair have been accomplished by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of citizen volunteers.  It all began in Portland, Oregon with the idea that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture.

Lakeman and City Repair were influential in the realization of Dignity Village in Portland, a community of otherwise homeless individuals and couples who have created their own alternative to the insufficient traditional shelter system.  The self-governing Village of around 60 members have participated in the construction of their own homes, made largely from recycled materials.  The Village has formed firm rules against drugs, alcohol, violence and theft, and those who break these rules are not permitted to stay.  These rules are not simply to appease the larger community, but also to ensure a certain quality of life for the residents within the Village.

The major setback for Dignity Village is that it has been treated as a LULU (Locally Unwanted Land Use), being placed in a marginalized location adjacent to the airport and a state prison, which is about an hour bus ride from the city center.  This leaves Villagers isolated from the larger community, making it difficult to develop outside relationships and transition out.

Opportunity Village Eugene is proposing a similar concept to Dignity Village that is more integrated with the larger community.  We realize that this means some things will have to be approached differently.  One example is aesthetics of the village, which is something the OVE non-profit organization has been putting a great deal of thought into.

Naturally, there is a direct relationship that can be made by bringing the village into the community since the people that can help make this a vibrant and aesthetic place are right there.  We have tons of artists, builders, and permaculturists in Eugene and many have expressed commitment to lending their skills by holding hands-on workshops at the Village. 

We are developing a Village Structure Catalog, which documents simple and sustainable structures that have been proposed by local and regional architects and builders.  These volunteers will introduce an undemanding process of constructing these structures, and then locate a “champion” within the Village that could then replicate this process and teach others.  Chuck Henderson, a Bay Area based architect, has proposed the “Conic Shell” and made the following commitment:

Conic Shells are a new solution to homelessness and disaster relief. We are very committed to seeing this new technology realized as part of a viable solution to the growing plight of the homeless in the United States.  We would be happy to conduct workshops and tutorial presentations and these will result in actual completed structures that can be built and finished in one day or less. The construction procedure is very simple and straightforward which will encourage villagers to participate directly in the construction process.

Schools and Churches are also frequently looking for social justice initiatives to involve their students and congregations in.  These would again be a natural relationships for Opportunity Village, which is a major reason for the proposed site at 13th and Chambers that is surrounded by these institutions.  These relationships would catalyze mutual benefits and personal growth opportunities for both sides.

In thinking about how to develop these types of functional relationships, we’ve been thinking about how to make Opportunity Village a City Repair Project, where neighbors come together to plan projects that transform neighborhood spaces into community oriented-places. 

City Repair defines places as a space invested with value.  Opportunity Village will create a landscape that would be infused with place so that people would be encouraged to gather and interact with each other.  Within the Village, this idea of place allows for people in a similar situation to work together in order to help themselves.  At the larger scale, it provides an effective avenue for collaboration between the housed and the unhoused.

There is often a perspective held by the well-off that those in poverty should come to them, and that this can be achieved through hard work and self-determination.  Under the current economic conditions I think that the overwhelming majority of us can agree that this is not a reasonable assumption.

Maybe then a more effective solution is for the well-off to come to those in poverty.  Opportunity Village would provide the place for this to occur.

There have been concerns raised by some citizens about whether a community like Opportunity Village could succeed in being a safe and stable environment.  Some have questioned whether homeless folks have the tenacity to run a secure, self-governed community or participate in the construction of their own homes, and are not persuaded by over a decade of success at Dignity Village in Portland. 

My argument is that it will not fail if we, the community, do not let it fail.  By forming a network of support and oversight around Opportunity Village we can ensure its success.  Some will feel that this is not their responsibility.  But overall, I believe Eugene, a City committed to equity and human rights, is primed for this responsibility and standing by for the opportunity.

Letters to the Editor

There have been a number of letters written in regards to OVE in the editorial sections that range across the spectrum of support and opposition.  Here is a composite listing that we have gathered:

Register Guard

April 16, 2012
Housing is key to the homeless
For anyone wishing to pass on the merits of homeless communities, I recommend “Tent Cities America: A Pacific Coast Report” by the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Andy Heben’s thesis, “Tent City Urbanism.” Both are available online.
There’s no reason Eugene can’t have a drug-free, alcohol-free and violence-free homeless community based on existing successful models. Ending homelessness requires more than a camp, of course, but it starts with housing, however modest — a safe, secure place to be and to call home. It would be wonderful if there was a plethora of affordable and supported housing, but there isn’t. The choice is between the protection afforded by a tent or yurt and living isolated and vulnerable on the streets.
Please support efforts to provide a safe, sanctioned space for the homeless to build a community and start the at-times-lengthy journey out of homelessness.
Ann Kelvin

July 22, 2012 
Put homeless village elsewhere
Our family lives one block west of the proposed Opportunity Village. We have a daughter at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School and a great investment in our home, school and community. We respect the city’s and Opportunity Village’s dedication to improvements for the homeless but we don’t see the village as a good fit.
Jean Stacey claims Opportunity Village has been working with churches, schools, neighborhood associations and neighbors (“Finding that first home for the homeless,” July 17). To our knowledge, the Faith Center, Chavez’s principal and Eugene’s schools superintendent have all withheld support, to “let the process play out.” What’s more, the city hasn’t yet made any determinations on site or public process.
Stacey’s idealist scenarios pointed to success of other tent cities in Portland and Seattle but omitted critical facts, in that Portland’s “Dignity Village,” now permanent, sits between a state prison and a leaf-recycling facility, not in a residential area. And Seattle’s tent cities rotate sites every three months.
We were alarmed more when we called our city councilor, George Brown, and he lobbied us in favor of the project. Yet, when pressed, he admitted he wouldn’t want the village next to his home or school.
We hope the city will reject the West 13th Avenue/West 14th Avenue location The costs to our neighborhood are potentially high if Opportunity Village’s experiment fails. Choose another location with less impact on a neighborhood such as ours, full of people raising families and working hard to create their own opportunities.
Patrick Waters CARLY WATERS

July 23, 2012           
Don’t delay homeless village plans
Instead of accepting the Opportunity Task Force recommendation for a pilot project called “Opportunity Village” for 30 homeless people, the Eugene City Council directed the city manager to study the issues further. Some councilors argued that careful deliberation will ensure “we get it right” and “bring as many citizens on board as possible.”
I understand the motivation. However, as another councilor pointed out, “We have been dealing with this issue for 30 years.”
We live in a time of growing diversity. We have a hard time agreeing on anything. There are as many solutions as there are people in a room. We are not going to “get it right” if “getting it right” means everyone “is on board.” We will either confront the issues now with courage and determination or we will end up with a tent that’s big but ultimately empty of agreed-upon solutions.
Some will legitimately believe that time and deliberation is the key to success. But time is change; we live in a world where problem-solving is more useful than “getting it right.” Make a decision and keep improving it as things change. The issues are complicated, and yet they are not. There are all sorts of nuances and complexities we could consider while the problem keeps growing worse.
It’s time to do something and to perfect it as we go. We are never going to “get it right” but we may have a chance, if we act now, to “make it right.”
Lorne Bostwick

July 24, 2012
 We should all ask: What would I do?
As City Councilor for Ward 1, I have been speaking with many parents and residents living around César Chávez Elementary School, near one of the possible sites for an “Opportunity Village” for the homeless. Some are very concerned about the idea of transitional housing on West 14th Avenue, across from the school, and I’ve been calling people back to discuss the proposal.
Constituents Pat Waters and Carly Waters’ July 21 letter misrepresented our conversation when they stated that I wouldn’t want the village next to my home or school. What I said was, “I honestly don’t know.” Uncertainty is much different from outright rejection.
The question is a good one, though, one that everyone who cares about the problem should ask: “Would I support a homeless shelter in my neighborhood?”
I urge all concerned parties to attend a public meeting to discuss the transitional housing proposal at 6:30 tonight at the school, 1510 W. 14th Ave.
Eugene city councilor, Ward 1

July 26, 2012
Opportunity Village has a solution
Since the Opportunity Eugene Task Force recommended that the city establish a “safe and secure place to be” for the city’s unhoused population, a nonprofit organization has formed known as Opportunity Village Eugene. Patrick Malee’s July 19 article (“Homeless camp inches forward”), which covered a Eugene City Council work session on the task force recommendations, failed to mention Opportunity Village — not surprising, because it went largely unmentioned during the work session.
We’re planning to establish a self-­governed village offering alternative housing options, not a camp. It will be based on best-practice examples in Portland and Seattle that have existed successfully for more than a decade.
Councilor George Brown, who visited the existing models, described his positive experiences and questioned why something similar couldn’t be done in Eugene. As talk of how to direct city staff to identify potential sites and further explore this issue went around the table, Councilor Betty Taylor offered a practical question: Why don’t we listen to the Opportunity Village folks who already have presented us with a plan?
Opportunity Village Eugene already has explored site options around the city, developed a 20-page proposal for creating a cost-effective homeless solution with dignity, and raised significant community support.
We hope to work in collaboration with city staff as it enters the path we already have been walking for months.

July 27, 2012
Put homeless village near a school
Regarding Patrick Waters’ and Carly Waters’ July 21 letter headlined “Put homeless village elsewhere,” I’m a firm believer that it does indeed take an entire community to raise a child (research also indicates that). Homeless families already are marginalized, most not by choice, and are just as deserving of stability and quality of life as anyone else.
A site near a school would be an ideal place for homeless families with children to reside — within walking distance to a good school and potentially near other valuable community resources.
I’m horrified that anyone would suggest a more suitable location to be “between a state prison and a leaf-­recycling facility,” as is the case with Portland’s Dignity Village. How could any conscientious parent and human see that assertion as setting a positive example for their own children to follow?
Children and families who are in transition desperately need a place such as the proposed Opportunity Village in Eugene, because it would be a chance for them to feel some sense of security and belonging while trying to find work, gain access to services and raise their children. As for the Waters family, I’m using their letter to teach my son what kind of person not to be.
Heather Woodsum

July 28, 2012
Let’s be better neighbors next time
I attended the July 24 neighborhood meeting about Opportunity Village. It was front-page news the next morning. The opinions expressed were vigorous and mostly negative — and did not represent the neighborhood I call home.
My neighbors listen to each other with respect, even in disagreement.
My neighbors don’t attend informational meetings with their minds made up.
My neighbors do not interrupt.
My neighbors do not leap to conclusions.
My neighbors are careful not to stereotype others, remembering there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to human beings.
My neighbors feel a sense of community that can be open-hearted, even forgiving.
My neighbors have questions, concerns and fears but they keep their anger out of the learning process.
I hope, at the next meeting, my neighbors and I will do better at listening to each other and to the presenters. And I hope other neighborhoods do better than we did when discussing Opportunity Village in their neighborhoods.

July 29, 2012
Don’t house homeless near schools
I am much concerned about placing a homeless shelter across from Cesar Chavez Elementary School. I also had concerns about having strip bars down the street from Springfield secondary schools.
I feel we have a great need to help the homeless in Eugene. Friends who recently returned from the Chicago area told me they saw no homeless people on street corners there as we have here. If that’s true in a megalopolis such as Chicago, we need to learn how people there met that urgent need.
Transitional housing doesn’t belong near schools because it would expose children to unstable situations as they come and go.

August 1, 2012
Homeless village plan is no solution
I live two blocks from the site Opportunity Village has its eye on near Cesar Chavez Elementary School. I’d like to respond to recent letters on the topic.
To Andy Heben (letters, July 26): Opportunity Village has a vague vision, not a solution. It is unjustified in zeroing in so heavy-handedly on any site.
To Heather Woodsum (letters, July 27): My family has lived a half-block from the school for eight years and the impact of homeless camping — drunken brawls, prostitution, drugs, trashed landscape — would be demoralizing. Think of a place two blocks from your own home and envision a giant “self-governed” tent city there. If that sounds awesome, contact Opportunity Village.
To Jay Moseley (letters, July 28): My neighbors don’t use rhetoric and buzzwords to justify an ill-conceived, high-impact “solution.” My neighbors speak up when it feels like we’re being steamrolled and manipulated.
I’m a hardworking, middle-class progressive; an educator, union member and mother. I advocate — through word, deed and dollar — social services for homeless families. I am the 99 percent.
But even the noble Occupy Eugene movement ended with a man being beaten to death when homeless people got involved. I’m unwilling to risk the integrity and landscape of my neighborhood for a homeless camp.
Homelessness must be addressed. Put every cent of my taxes toward job development and affordable housing. But do not corral the homeless behind a fence two blocks from my house and call it a dignified solution.

August 5, 2012
Don’t put camp in a neighborhood
It’s easy for Heather Woodsum to decry a previous letter writer’s plea to put a proposed homeless village elsewhere (letters, July 27). Apparently she lives nowhere near the proposed Opportunity Village site. I’m quite a distance away as well, but I object to someone trying to force their politics on a neighborhood that seems overwhelmingly against utopian experimentation in their backyards.
There are plenty of sites in town that wouldn’t directly impact established neighborhoods and I would suggest that a trial run be conducted at such sites prior to considering the Chambers Street/West 13th Avenue site. One only needs to remember last year’s Occupy Eugene camp disaster to see the potential problems involved.
B.A. Nelson

October 6, 2012
Opportunity Village is practical, not utopian

The Opportunity Village project was recently described as “rather utopian,” which I find difficult to understand.  Humans have lived in self-governing villages for all but a tiny fraction of their existence!  I believe it is far more utopian to expect that all citizens can always fit current expectations of private space, which is what our existing legal framework demands.

We fund short-term, charitable solutions that attempt to change people to better fit these expectations, but fail to provide the environment for making the transition.  Addressing homelessness in the long run has less to do with money or people and much more to do with the allocation of space.  And, until politicians come to grips with this, the issue will continue to fester.

Looking at the city we see an excess of high quality materials going to waste, lots of people who need something to do, and the damaging effects of not having a stable space to call home.  We see the need for some kind of security in place, a sense of place, of purpose, and of belonging.  A self-governing village responds to these needs by taking advantage of our surplus in materials, connecting people in a similar situation, and allowing people to work together in order to help themselves.  It is a practical, long-term solution that can reduce harmful effects on future populations by providing a safe a stable place to be from the start with the support of community.
Andrew Heben