Helping the houseless
Last updated 10/18/2022 at Noon
I plan to attend the meeting on houselessness next Thursday, and am curious as to what possible solutions will be presented. As a pragmatic person, I hope it’s not only an awareness meeting with lots of talk-talk-talk. I think most of us are aware there is a problem that is not improving. Like many of you (and thank you, Bill Bartlett), I’ve been giving this difficult situation some serious thought. Especially with winter coming.
I recently watched a YouTube video about the Opportunity Village in Eugene. Eugene happens to have the highest per capita homeless population in the U.S. About a decade ago, concerned citizens in Eugene got together to establish a gated community where 30 tiny homes were built to help people who were houseless. These tiny homes are about 400 square feet and offer a clean, warm, dry place for residents to shelter, keep possessions safe, and sleep. Other larger structures provide communal kitchen/dining area, meeting room, bathrooms/toilets/showers, as well as a manager’s office.
I don’t have all the details of how Opportunity Village originated, whether funding is private or public, but I am impressed by its success. Residents don’t actually “own” their tiny homes, but they do feel a sense of ownership, planting gardens, decorating the interiors, making their tiny space feel like home. Most of them work at minimum-wage jobs, some participate in various therapeutic programs, and all enjoy a sense of community.
This secure community has rules and regulations, enforced by conscientious management from both inside and outside the locking gates. Residents learn to self-govern and take responsibility for their compact community. They learn to really care about their neighbors and how their community is run. In time, if they’re ready, residents are encouraged to take the next step in housing. Perhaps with tiny home ownership in another community, or even a Habitat home.
As I pondered on Eugene’s admirable project, I wondered why a similar program wouldn’t work for Sisters. And if the numbers I just read in The Nugget Newspaper are accurate (300 houseless people in the forest?) we really need to do something besides talk. I realize it would require a well-coordinated effort and some concerned and benevolent supporters, but I think we have the kind of community that could handle it. But where do we start?
Meeting together is a good place to begin. And forming a real committee to pursue real answers makes good sense, but I’ve been on government “planning” committees before, and most of the time was spent talking, posturing, and arguing. Recommended solutions were often slow and cumbersome and usually tied up in red tape. Why not keep it simple and straightforward? Or is that impossible in this day and age? But what if we could....
What if some kind landowner donated (or leased) a few acres of private rural property? It would need to be close enough to town to afford easy access to jobs, shopping, schools, church. With some streamlined help from the City, this parcel could be zoned for permitted residential use, perhaps with a temporary renewable permit. With donations from concerned citizens, and some waved fees from the City, the land could be developed with water, sewer, electricity, and securely fenced/gated.
After that, the real fun begins. I can imagine benefactors stepping up to sponsor individual tiny homes. I know my husband and I would be willing to sponsor one. Each tiny home sponsor would be financially responsible, and in charge of having their structure built (according to agreed-upon guidelines), and placed on the property. Additional buildings could be individually sponsored, or built by teams of volunteers. Hopefully this kind of generosity and cooperation would create a connecting bond between sponsors and residents — a way to establish community that could lead to more opportunities for friendships.
Let’s face it, Sisters is a town that can afford to support a good-sized work force. Yet, we don’t have “affordable” housing for people employed at minimum wage jobs. And the price of gas, for employees to commute to more affordable housing in Redmond and even Prineville, is taking its toll. It’s time for Sisters to step up to the challenge.
What I’ve described is just one idea. There are probably many. But hopefully we will come up with something that’s really doable—and then we’ll just do it! Anyway, I’ll be listening eagerly at the upcoming meeting (Thursday, October 20 at the Fire Hall at 5:30 p.m.).