Note: We are a pretty humble little village, and that starts at the top. Neither Gabe nor Heather have the time or inclination to blow their own horns.
Luckily for the rest of us here at the village, a journalism student at the University of Oregon named Maxwell Ely has graciously given us permission to publish a profile of Heather that he wrote for one of his classes. We cosign everything he has written and more, and hope it doesn’t embarrass Heather too much.
Maxwell is studying to get a BA in Journalism, Political Science and Public Relations.
Learn more about him at his website: http://maxwellely.com
(Aside from adding photos with captions, we haven’t changed a word.)
“An advocate for the unhoused of Eugene”
By Maxwell Ely
When you meet someone who is passionate about their work, it is not hard to pick up on it. Meeting Heather Sielicki, it’s immediately apparent how passionate she is about human rights, specifically those of unhoused individuals in Eugene, Oregon. When talking about the unhoused community, Sielicki lights up, sharing the stories of those she has met.
Her passion for the unhoused is met equally by the work she puts into the community. This past year, Sielicki has been able to accomplish something she has wanted to do for some time now, opening a safe sleep site called Everyone Village to house the unhoused. Sielicki is the co-lead of Everyone Village, a sheltered community that provides shelters for unhoused people and actively provides opportunities for the residents to work and learn.
Everyone Village is located on a 3.55-acre lot – donated by Rexius President Arlen Rexius – containing houses, a community center, and a warehouse where residents can work and build things like chairs and curtains for the village. The village houses range from micro-shelters and RVs to whatever other minimal dwelling types Sielicki could get her hands on.
Sielicki started working on the village after meeting her co-lead, Pastor Gabe Piechowicz, in the Summer of 2021. Sielicki met Piechowicz while working on micro-shelters with the organization Carry It Forward.
Piechowicz has been involved in supporting the community for many years as
well. With his church – EveryOne Church – Piechowicz has focused the bulk of his outreach to the unhoused, working with organizations like Carry It Forward regularly. For Piechowicz, the connection between him and Sielicki was instantaneous.
“I’ve never met someone that I could work with as efficiently, easily, successfully, and fluidly,” Piechowicz said. “Few people that I have met care more about the city of Eugene than Heather.”
Since starting to work together, Piechowicz and Sielicki have accomplished a great deal. Sielicki says she feels the two of them are “kindred spirits” and knew they wanted to make a community first village. Sielicki and Piechowicz wanted to design a place that thrived on community and engagement from its residents. So they decided to base their shelter on Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village in Austin, Texas.
The “Community First!” model is designed to provide shelters for the unhoused and opportunities for growth and individual agency. Everyone Village has micro-enterprise opportunities for residents to work and earn a spendable income in jobs that benefit the entire community. One resident, Brian, who is living and working under this model at Everyone Village, has been shocked at the differences between Everyone Village and previous places he has found shelter.
“In my experience, they [shelters] don’t want to hear anything from a homeless person. You know, it’s like you just do what the staff says, and your ideas are not really of interest,” Brian said. “Heather is not like that. She bends over backward to make it fair for homeless people and listen to them.”
Brian has been able to work on many different projects with Sielicki, including helping write the community guidelines for the entire village. Brian has even started an anonymous blog to help illustrate what living at the village is really like.
According to his blog – View from the Village – located on the Everyone Village website, Brian uses the moniker “The Scrapper.” So far, he has written about his experience meeting Sielicki and getting introduced to Everyone Village and wrote a profile about himself and his background. Brian hopes to continue writing and show potential residents and investors why Everyone Village is such a special place.
Although just a few months old, the community has continued to grow. Everyone Village has gone from 0 to 30 residents in just the past few weeks and plans to continue growing and have 60 residents by the Summer. Sielicki is encouraged by the village residents, and her passion shines through her smile even over the camera. Sielicki beams like the sun, matching her blond hair, when talking about the residents and her plans for the village.
Sielicki said, “there are just some remarkable stories and bringing people into a shared community where they’re being empowered and being supported by other people who understand the complexities and challenges of that transition from street to shelter… it has been awesome!”
According to Lane County’s Homeless-By-Name-List (HBNL), there were 3,967 reported unhoused people in Lane County as of December 2021. These numbers reflect how Lane County has one of the highest rates of homelessness per capita.
Sielicki cannot help everyone; luckily, she is not alone in her mission. The city of Eugene and its businesses have helped Everyone Village continue to grow and thrive. Sielicki estimates that, including the land, they have received almost half a million dollars in contributions. In addition to these donated funds, Eugene has been a proud partner in her work.
City Councilor Randy Groves, Sielicki says, has been extremely hands-on and provided a team to support Everyone Village that has aided Sielicki in securing an 18-month contract with the city that helps pay for operational staff in the Village only a few days ago, on January 15th. It is evident that Eugene sees the need and actively supports people like Sielicki, who are working to solve the problem.
Everyone Village is not the only safe-sleeping site in Eugene. However, Everyone Village hopes to provide a longer-lasting solution to the crisis than just shelter. Everyone Village is not the first time Sielicki has worked with the unhoused community. She first got involved with unhoused individuals when a protest camp moved into her neighborhood.
As the neighborhood association chair at that time, she wanted to meet the camp and understand how she could help. Meeting with the campers opened her eyes to what life was like for the unhoused. Since that moment, Sielicki has been working on ways to improve the lives of the unhoused within Eugene. Sielicki has worked for many organizations that focus on helping the unhoused.
She is currently a commissioner on the Eugene Human Rights Commission, where
she moved forward a recommendation to the city of Eugene that categorizes violence against a person based on their housing status as a hate crime. Sielicki has already had a storied career, and she doesn’t plan to stop working anytime soon.
The work Sielicki is doing has already impacted dozens, and with Everyone Village, that impact will only grow.