[permaculture] Eugene, Oregon's Radical Solution to Homelessness: A Bare-Bones Shed Village - CityLab

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Tue Nov 11 19:45:01 EST 2014

Eugene, Oregon's Radical Solution to Homelessness: A Bare-Bones Shed

None of the structures in Opportunity Village pass dwelling codes, but the
community is a grassroots attempt at the newly embraced Housing First model.

*This story is the first of a multipart CityLab series launching this month
on the state of homelessness policy in American cities. *

Back in 2011, Eugene, Oregon—like many U.S. cities—had an Occupy camp pop
up in a public space. And like in many cities, Eugene’s camp became a
residence for not only activists but large numbers of homeless individuals.
The camp was eventually shut down for safety reasons, another story common
to Occupy encampments across the country. But in Eugene, something
unexpected happened next.

Having finally seen the scope of the city’s problem with homelessness up
close, its leaders vowed to actually do something about it. Eugene Mayor
Kitty Piercy set up a task force on homelessness to come up with solutions,
and her directive was taken seriously: Three years later, Eugene has
something to show for these efforts.

The task force’s main recommendation was to create a place where the city’s
homeless could be safe, during the day and at night. How exactly to
accomplish that, no one was sure. But around that time, Andrew Heben, a
27-year-old urban planner who had recently written his senior thesis at the
University of Cincinnati on “Tent City Urbanism
moved to Eugene.

“He was this fresh-faced kid who came in with bright ideas,” recalls
Michael Wisth, then a community-development grants manager for Eugene.
Heben's idea to help Eugene's homeless was to move from a model of
scattered and temporary “tent cities” to a consolidated village of “tiny
homes.” Heben and a crew of Occupy activists began pitching the idea at
community meetings, billing it as an innovative way for the city to make
good on the task force recommendations. They organized a board of directors
made up of several well-respected community leaders, drew up an attractive
and well-organized blueprint for the village, and even built a sample
structure so the community could see exactly what they were intending to

The city agreed to donate an acre plot of land to the project and gave them
a year lease as a pilot project. Heben and the other organizers raised
$100,000 in cash donations and about another $100,000 worth of donated
materials to build the village, which would ultimately provide shelter for
42 previously unhoused people. (By contrast, the median value
<http://www.zillow.com/eugene-or/home-values/> of a single family home in
Eugene is $250,000.)

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