Exciting things are happening at the village right now, and have been for quite a while, and we have a lot of help from a lot of people, help from partners and tradespeople alike, and in many cases, they are doing all the work, or at least all the hard work, and we are sitting back and watching our village just grow and grow.
Before we get into specifics though, let’s think about a very gray little word, a word that hangs in the background, a word you never even think of until it gets interrupted or stalled. The word is ‘infrastructure,’ a word that most folks don’t even have to think about much, even though without it, all our plans and hopes, unless you are a prepper, have a good chance of fizzling out.
Some groups think about infrastructure a lot, like the people who keep everything from the lights to the toilets running. People suffering through hurricanes or floods think about it too, wondering when things will get back to normal, normal being smoothly functioning infrastructure, meaning something you don’t even notice, the backbone that lets you take care of all the stuff on your daily lists.
The unhoused definitely think about it. To us it is the most beautiful word in the world.
And to understand why, it is pretty clear that many forms of infrastructure have a habit of being denied the homeless a lot of the time. Nowhere warm or dry to sleep, nowhere cool to hang out during a heatwave, no toilet, no shower, and to help illustrate what is meant, we also have to include how our own little village began.
Early in January of this year, you should have seen this place, a few RVs, and three small fairly primitive shelters, the first of us moving in during that cold snap, with just a tiny bit of habitation at one end of a large snowy field with no cover, and arctic winds whipping across four acres and finding us.
What a leap of faith it was for the first villagers trusting that we all would be housed and heated and bathed in some form or another. We had toilets, portapotties, a workable if not luxurious solution to that problem, and we had, thank God, electricity in the shelters, the RVs having propane for heat and generators for the rest.
It just wasn’t the sort of situation where you took for granted heat and light from flicking a switch.
As dependable as, for the most part, the electricity was, seeing a big cable snaking out from the warehouse to a portable distribution box, a box from which the individual power cords flowed to individual units, and referred to by the not-so-reassuring name of a ‘spider box,’ did not inspire you with confidence.
It was a this-should-work situation, but if it doesn’t, trace the cord from your unit, through and under all the other cords till you get to the spider and press the yellow and then the red button and it should come back, or was it red then yellow?
Okay, so we have heat and light and a plastic bathroom in which no one in their right minds would linger, now what other problems need solving?
Can we cook? Looks like it, there is a microwave and an air fryer in the chilly common area, an area that gets periodically heated by a heater running both on electricity and diesel that sounds like a jet engine. (Thank you Dwan Shepard from Co-Motion Cycles) Take you pick, you can have a conversation or warmth.
What else? Can we charge our phones or lights and battery packs? Yes, but not enough outlets (quick meeting, trip to store for power strip), now there are.
What about showers? Cleaning up?
As one early villager liked to say when he handed out fragrance-free baby wipes,
“These are you new best friends now.”
The early shower option was go to Fox Hollow Pool, which, if you are riding the bus, is a two hour excursion.Soon a source for off site showers was arrived at, gym memberships, including access to the massage chairs, tanning beds, and some inexplicable contraption called “total body enhancement.” While this was in operation it was fairly humorous having groups of villagers heading out for showers and spa days, not a term you thought would come up at a homeless village.
So we had a cobbled together, sometimes worked out on the fly, infrastructure plan of sorts that was workable, definitely, just involving some problem solving, sometimes some patience when the propane ran out, and some fortitude at least.
That was how it was for the first few months, with especially the propane and gas for generators being a huge production, making sure everyone got their propane tank, returned it, there happened to be someone working who knew how to fill the little green ones, and where is that card we use for buying more? Big shout out to the staff dealing with this in the early days, at times feeling more like they worked in a gas station that a village community.
Soon, and this was key to many of us, our resident Shop Lead, Amiel put together a sturdy smoker’s shack that had its back to the wind. No more smoking out in the rain!
So okay, you have a heated shelter, a place to sleep in and keep your stuff.
Although there were future plans for a separate common area, kitchen, coffee nook, private rooms for counseling and meetings, separate areas for donations and projects, for that time being, all village business was carried out in one big warehouse space:
Supplies. hang out space, computer use, kitchen space, food storage both frozen, cold and other, and donated items. And, the crowning glory, only truly appreciated by winter portapotty users, a normal bathroom with a normal toilet, and, praise whoever you praise, one of those big tub sinks you could wash more than your face in.
And that was how it was, for a good few months, and, that being the case, you may well imagine why someone living in a village such as ours, might find the word ‘infrastructure,’ not just beautiful, but, to our ears, as close as music as one word can get.
It all started with Gabe announcing these upgrades at our weekly village meeting, and, slowly, over the past few months, we villagers have watched, and sometimes helped, grab our space by the shoulders and guide it gently into the twentieth century.
On March 16, Amiel installed a much larger, two basin sink with counters, separating the dish cleaning and the elimination functions of the bathroom. There was much rejoicing. Plus a place to put drying dishes.
Soon after that, on April 9, our friend Gabe Casteel of Carry It Forward (different Gabe) showed up with something that not only worked for us, but worked for anyone standing near us or sitting next to us on the bus. It took some extra tinkering by the resourceful Amiel, something about a pump and a way to drain it, and soon we had a working shower for ourselves right next to our shelters. And not only that, we got one of a practical and charming design.
For some, true wealth is being able to have a helicopter pick you up whenever you want. For villagers, at this time in our history, it was the height of luxury to have a shower where you live so you don’t have to carry your towel and change of clothes and toiletries on the bus every time you want to tidy up, and march past a bunch of gym rats just to clean up. And not to be ungrateful, but our little shower has way better water pressure than the one at Planet Fitness. Just sayin’.
There is one way the homeless world is no different than any other. There never seems to be enough outlets for charging electronic lifelines of one kind or another. So you could imagine the jubilation, (Too strong a word? Think not. ) when in early June, White Bird showed up to loan and install a solar phone charging station with individual lockers for the phones with one-time passcodes. The locker sanitizes the phone too. Even Starbucks can’t beat that.
You cannot imagine what a blessing and a relief it is when each little part of the infrastructure falls into place. when something like this shows up we feel doubly blessed.
Until now, only about half of the shelters have had electricity, and none of the RVs unless they had their own generator. So we were pretty pumped when Gabe announced at a Thursday meeting, that Builder’s Electric was going to install one of these big boxes.
Not sure exactly what it is, we only know that instead of two thin cords stretching out from the warehouse to provide all the juice, this thing would make us, basically a neighborhood, with power for all and all to come.
This is pretty unprecedented in Eugene.
While the Mission, where everyone sleeps in dorms, has heat and light for everyone, none of the villages around town have actual shore power delivered to its shelters. A big thank you to all our partners and donors for making this possible, and for Builders Electric for installing it. At the moment, we are blessed to have Contractor’s Electric joining the fun and working to install an electric grid off of the big box.
But that doesn’t mean we can get ready for the power, and in this case that means a big fat trench being dug up by men in big machines.
At the moment we have Twin Rivers Plumbing on the property, digging a massive trench that will deliver not only electricity provided by Contractor’s Electric, but sewer for showers, laundry, toilets, and anything else you need sewer for. The only reason we aren’t running up to the people putting this all in motion and giving them high fives is that we were asked to stay out of their way.
So what else is currently in the works? One big thing is the remodel of our warehouse by Stonewood Construction, starting tomorrow. This will be huge because until now, of our two warehouses, one has served as a kind of workshop for shop lead Amiel, but that is stretching the definition of workshop. On the other, we have basically had a lot of functions cobbled together and squished into one space. Common area, kitchen, sink, food storage both dry and refrigerated, donated clothing and books, meeting space for groups big or small, peer support, all with no privacy at all. Not to mention a couple lofts overhead packed with almost any other kind of supply you could think of.
The plan Stonewood has for us is exciting. First of all, Amiel, who keeps so much of this place running will have the workshop he deserves, and there will be a smaller space for people to work on their bikes, a function that we sorely need because there are many people with bikes here and until now, nowhere to work on them inside. We may end up tricking out our bikes like this:
And the other side will be even more elaborate.
First of all, the kitchen will be moved out back on the concrete slab in a building of its own, housing food storage and washing up as well,. The separation of these two spaces alone will remove about 60% of the conflict in the common area for good. What is it about food?
So the common area will be just a common area, a place for people to meet and relax and not fight over food. Our new day room will have a balcony, a bigger office for staff, private spaces for counseling and AA meetings, a coffee/breakfast bar, seating, another door to the back of the warehouse and into the main housing area, and new bathrooms. All of it will be hung with drywall, insulated, plumbed, and electricity. It will be a legitimately inhabitable space.
That is the future though.
Right now is a time of flexibility, patience, and pitching in. We will be finding electricity browning out or going out and coming back, familiar paths to doors blocked, water mysteriously turning off and on, as well as all sorts of strangers and strange machines in the village getting it all up and running. Let’s just say villagers will expect disruptions of one sort or another, and the wise ones will keep their eyes on the prize instead of the temporary inconvenience.
As you may well guess, it will be pretty crazy around here for a month or two but after that what a place and a time we will have.
Living, not just surviving.
And the final bit of infrastructure news, beautiful news will only be hinted at for now, because it deserves a post of its own (coming soon). What happened was, an organization of concerned churches got together and tried to brainstorm a way to get us more and better shelters on their own and without recourse to the government.
And didn’t they come up with something special?
A kind of assembly line prefab concept that could easily make framed, dry walled, insulated, wired for electrical, shelters put together pretty much in a day by one carpenter and a team of volunteers. Suffice it to say, soon we will have more quality shelters, almost houses really, than we know what to do with.
Thanks to the One Hope Network, soon we will have the “Cottages of Hope.”
But more on that later. We are enjoying the most beautiful word in the world while we can, while each new bit of infrastructure seems like a miracle and a blessing, but also looking forward to the day when we can take it for granted just like everyone else, and get on with our lives, our health, our income, our housing like everyone else, and without the distraction of finding our own infrastructure where and how we can.
Many thanks to all the government, partners, volunteers, and donors who are right now helping us put together a truly exceptional little experiment in dignified housing for the unhoused.
Thank you all.