Our definition of ‘homeless camp’

In October the Eugene City Council passed an ordinance to allow for a temporary camp in the area to help deal with the homelessness challenge. Community Supported Shelters (CSS) submitted an informal proposal to the City to manage a camp. Recently, we began to think about how the public may perceive the concept of a homeless camp and how that might differ from what we are actually working on.

In very simple terms, the camp is a safe and legal place to put a tent for the winter for those lacking access to traditional housing. The most important word here is “safe,” which is why we call our camp “Safe Spot.” From the perspective of the campers, the camp provides a place to sleep at night where they won’t be hassled by law enforcement for sleeping in an unauthorized area, where they won’t be directly on the ground and have to wake up in huge puddles (tents at Safe Spot have designated areas on tent platforms), and where there are people to ensure that personal belongings are safe so residents can leave the camp and not worry about theft.

The underlying concept of safety also extends to the nearby businesses and residents. Rules regarding noise, violence, theft, respect, cleanliness, and community participation will be enforced. These camps are only ”safe” if the neighbors to these camps feel “safe” being next to them. Any business next to a Safe Spot Camp will have a direct phone number to Community Supported Shelters to report any problems.

We are thinking realistically about our role as managers of the camp. We are a small organization with limited resources. Our desire to take this on comes from a sense of community duty. During our yearlong effort building Conestoga Huts, we have met many people who, for lots of different reasons, need a place to be.

We plan to put five Conestoga Huts on the site to house the on-site managers. These managers will be selected by CSS and will check in routinely with our office. We hope that spreading some responsibilities to a small group of people will help achieve two goals: one, to give those folks an important role in our community, and two, to help our organization not get too stretched from the overall responsibility.

We want to make meaningful activity part of the lives of all the residents. The tent campers, who will be screened by CSS, are required to contribute a certain number of weekly volunteer hours to be allowed to stay at the camp. The volunteer service would take place at designated nonprofits approved by CSS. Some of the unhoused folks we have met are already volunteering somewhere because they have the desire to stay busy.

The overall vision is for the Eugene Safe Spot to be a gateway into the broader community for the camp residents, since the ordinance declares it to be a temporary winter camp. That’s why meaningful activity is such an important part of our plan. Participating in meaningful activity is not possible without having easy access to bare essentials like shelter, heat, and the ability to take care of personal hygiene. Without these elements, one’s daily goal is reduced to basic survival. So we are also considering a weekly shuttle from the camp to a shower facility and laundry. Our idea is to make these things easy for people, so more important activities like volunteering, skill building, and community development can be successful.

In a way, our most desired goal is to use this opportunity to try to change the way the broader community thinks about people who are homeless. We understand that this could take some time, and we hope the rest of the community keeps an open mind as we try new things to address this situation.