Community, News

County organizations, students shelter unhoused

Constructing a Brighter Future has built seven shelters for formerly unhoused people in the last year, and this is just the beginning.

It’s not a secret that the homeless crisis is a convoluted issue that has required, and will continue to require, constant political discussion and problem-solving. But this issue is not just for government officials to solve. It’s all hands on deck.

Constructing a Brighter Future (CBF) is a collaborative project which is addressing the homelessness crisis head-on by building single-room, transitional shelters for Lane County’s unhoused population while fostering youth construction skills – and it just celebrated its first year in operation.

The project is spearheaded by many organizations, including: Everyone Village, Squareone Village, Lane Community College, Lane Workforce Partnership (LWP), Lane Education Service District (Lane ESD), Lane Career Technical Education, Lane County School Districts, PIVOT Architecture, One Hope, and Richardson Media.

PHOTO BY RICHARDSON MEDIA

Jesse Quinn, LWP director of community engagement, said they have not seen any program across the country which compares to CBF, and Gabe Piechowicz, co-founder of Everyone Village, said CBF is “the makings of a tide turning.”

“For so many years, the housing and homeless crisis has gotten steadily worse and kept us at odds with solutions,” Piechowicz said. “The statistics and the lived reality of this for so many of us and all the community members in our Eugene/Springfield (area) – and our rural partners in Lane County and abroad – leaves little hope for better, and much less hope for brighter, so that’s where we’re starting from. But what this crisis did not intend for, did not plan for, and did not see coming was this: Constructing a Brighter Future. It’s a game changer.”

During the 2022-23 school year, CBF completed and delivered seven shelters to local housing sites, providing shelter for formerly unhoused people like Everyone Village resident Kevin Martin.

After becoming homeless in 2017 when he lived in Chicago, Martin packed up his car and drove west until he ran out of gas in Eugene, stopping in Colorado Springs along the way. He wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. He still hasn’t, but he’s now closer.

Martin said CBF has provided him with stability, protection, and safety.

“Ask anyone here. Everyone’s family. Everyone. It’s a good place,” Martin said. “We need places like this so we can … have a friend experience again where people come up to you, hug you, say they missed you, ask you how your day was, ask if you want dinner, say, ‘happy birthday.’”

AMANDA LUREY / THE CHRONICLE

At Everyone Village, residents are given employment opportunities at the facility – through managing key-making machines and working at the bottle redemption site, which is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2-4 p.m. They’re earning paychecks and paying taxes back into the community.

“We offer each other work that’s meaningful and sustainable – and before we knew it, we had people who were once under the bridge now standing on their own two feet, working, giving back, contributing, and flourishing,” Piechowicz said.

In addition to the shelters, Everyone Village has almost completed a bathroom and shower facility, with laundry machines coming in the future. There are three bathrooms and three showers; one of each is compliant with ADA standards.

“Marble showers shouldn’t just be for fancy hotels,” Piechowicz said. “It’s a really nice, shared facility that allows people the dignity of showering and going to the bathroom.”

There will be nine additional shelters completed and delivered this fall, bringing the total number of shelters built up to 16. CBF’s original goal was to finish 30 shelters in its first year, but Quinn said that was an optimistic goal, which was ultimately reduced along the way due to financial restraints.

Cottage Grove High School career technical education (CTE) teacher Adam Dimock said he’s noticed how passionate the students are about CBF.

“I’ve had kids want to come in on the weekends and work on it, so there’s some excitement about it,” Dimock said. “They like what it represents, as far as where these small houses are going, and what they’re being used for, so they feel like they’re doing a greater good.”

In the 2022-23 school year, 190 students from 16 Lane County schools collaborated with CBF, impacting their community while learning construction skills and practicing industry standards. CBF also allows students easier pathways to earn college credit.

“I have always wanted to go into some sort of trade, and seeing how much this helps, it really motivates me to want to go further in that – and I believe that when I’m older, I’m going to build houses for people,” said Jamie LeClaire, who is a McKenzie High School junior.

Junior at McKenzie High School, Rebekha Short, echoed Jamie’s praise for the project.

“(CBF) gives me faith in humanity,” Short said. “It gives me peace of mind that people actually still care about other people.”

This innovative effort to address the homelessness crisis is just getting started. For the 2023-24 school year, CBF is projecting to complete and deliver 16 more shelters, totaling 32, and is scaling the project. CBF will now include middle schools. Middle schoolers will not be expected to construct complete shelters; they will be fine-tuning the details of the shelters by building tables, planters, and benches.

“They’re not just structures,” said Shareen Vogel, who is the Lane ESD regional coordinator. “They’re symbols of hope and practical learning avenues for our middle school students.”

Vogel also mentioned that CBF is working toward partnering with landscape architecture contacts to find ways to connect natural resource and environmental science students to the project.

“The future’s bright, and we look forward to watching this grow and blossom,” Vogel said. “We invite all of you to witness, support, and be part of this transformation because together we’re not just constructing shelters; we’re crafting a legacy and a brighter future for our students.”

The homelessness crisis is an ever-evolving issue, but there is something that will always be constant: charitable people. With these people at the helm locally, a dent can be put into this crisis, and unhoused people can find their ways off the streets and under a roof.

“I have an incredible amount of hope and confidence that we are going to get around the horn on this problem because of these partnerships and because right now, as you’re (reading) this, there are students pounding nails and laying siding and putting in insulation and making sure that someone that’s currently living on the streets is going to be warm and safe and sheltered very soon,” Piechowicz said.

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