Volunteers Bring Heart to Increased Hut Builds
The recent initiative from the City of Eugene to establish five new Safe Spot Communities is very good news for many unhoused citizens among us. This exciting expansion means a significant increase in the number of Huts being assembled by the all-volunteer Hut Crews
To date, about 60 new Huts have been constructed by the crews in the past three months—after putting up about 140 in Safe Spot camps and other locations in Eugene and Springfield in the first seven years of CSS’s existence
“It’s really pretty amazing what the Hut Crews have done,” says CSS Chief Operating Officer Erik de Buhr. “They’re all volunteers who show up to make this happen. It’s a testament to their willingness to make a significant commitment to help provide a safe and secure place for folks to sleep, be part of a community, and look at options for what’s next in their lives.”
The Hut Crew has grown from one crew of about ten people to more than 30 volunteers on three crews, including a few people who drive down from Corvallis. In addition to assembling Huts on site, they also work at the CSS shop to prepare Hut components and supplies. The prep work includes building floors, decks, and steps; cutting vinyl sections for the roofs; and cutting metal plumber’s tape sections used to fasten the wire hoop walls.
The expansion has meant Hut Crews now work three days a week, with three different coordinators, to get the work done.
The volunteer crew chief is Jim Schmidt. Jim has been a volunteer with CSS almost since its inception eight years ago, and the same with Guy Maynard. John Kline, the third crew coordinators, started soon after.
Jim has seen a major transformation in CSS from the early days as a fledgling two-person nonprofit started by Erik and Kristinfay de Buhr, to a much expanded organization with a mission to serve the community.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how things have evolved over the years,” Jim says. “Back then Erik pretty much ran the shop and the Hut building operation, along with everything else he was doing.
“We were pretty worn out after a build, but it was a good tired. More volunteers on the crew has really made a big difference in how things get done.”
Guy and Jim got to know each other as volunteers in peace projects for CALC (Community Alliance for Lane County) and serving meals at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room. Their friendship continued as volunteers with CSS.
“Jim has been a really steady influence with the Hut Crew over the years,” Guy says. “He helps bring everybody together in a friendly, welcoming way.”
The actual construction of a hut is not complicated, but working with a changing group of volunteers does mean there’s a lot to coordinate.
“There’s not much of a hierarchy in how a Hut gets built,” Guy says. “As people learn, they just step up and see what’s needed next, and go for it. It’s kind of an organic process—and we have fun.”
The design has also evolved organically. For example, the first Huts were built with a heavy one-piece floor that took eight people to carry it. Floors are now constructed as two-piece units that slide together. The entire operation has become much more efficient. CSS has even published a Hut Manual with detailed illustration and specs.
But it’s the volunteers who make it all happen.
Barr Washburn is the CSS staff construction coordinator who oversees logistics and the overall planning of Huts and other infrastructure at the Safe Spots. He is impressed with the work of the volunteer Hut Crews.
“What really stands out big time is how much heart goes into their work,” Barr says. “I’ve been doing construction work with a lot of people over the years. But I’ve never been around such a friendly and upbeat group of volunteers as I see on the Hut Crews.”