Eugene homeless try living in experimental shelters

Edward Russo / The Eugene Register-Guard /


Published Mar 17, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

EUGENE — Next time you complain about your house being too small, think about Mark Hubbell, Diane Sciacca or Phill Bregg.

They are among the people in Eugene who reside in 6-foot-by-10-foot living spaces, in an experimental type of housing for the homeless called Conestoga huts.

Some of the huts could become the first shelters at Opportunity Village Eugene, a proposed homeless community on city property on Garfield Street.

Hubbell lives in a Conestoga hut at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection on Hilyard Street.

He said the value of having a home again — even a temporary, extremely small one — is “immeasurable.”

“You really can’t put a price on it,” he said. “When you become homeless, your day-to-day life is about survival.”

“It’s home,” Hubbell said of the hut. “It gives you security.”

Two other huts are on the church’s parking lot, under oak trees. Three other huts are at Westside Apostolic Church on Grant Street. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene plans to put two Conestoga huts on its property by the end of the month.

Assembled by volunteers out of new and donated materials for a few hundred dollars apiece, the huts are being placed on the church properties as part of the city-sponsored overnight camping program for homeless people.

Managed by St. Vincent de Paul, the program lets people sleep in vehicles, including old motorhomes and trailers, on privately owned land, including church properties, in Eugene and Springfield.

The Eugene City Council last December expanded the program to accept huts.

St. Vincent de Paul is willing to accept more huts if it can find additional sites through agreeable property owners, said program manager Keith Heath.

Vehicle campers are asked to follow overnight camping rules at the sites, including no drugs, alcohol, violence or panhandling.

“If you are at a church, you can’t approach parishioners after the services,” Heath said. “There are basic rules and regulations and one would think that if you are on a church site, that you are on holy ground and there as just some things that you don’t do.”

Homeless advocates and church leaders who formed the nonprofit group Opportunity Village Eugene are raising money to buy materials to make more huts. They hope some of the structures can be moved this summer to the proposed Opportunity Village site on Garfield Street, near Roosevelt Boulevard.

“Some of the churches may want to retain their huts, but those that don’t will go to the village,” said Jean Stacey, a member of the Opportunity Village board.

The Rev. Brent Was, priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection and an Opportunity Village Eugene board member, said the church’s board was happy to allow the huts on church property. The church had previously participated in the vehicle camping program.

Hubbell and Sciacca are mingling with church members in various ways, Was said, including attending church potlucks and using the church kitchen to prepare meals.

“We are building community with them here,” he said.

The wood huts, mounted on concrete blocks, have a front wall with a door and a back wall with a window, attached to an insulated floor.

The structures are covered with a curved roof that extends down the sides, giving the huts their Conestoga wagon-like appearance. The roof and side walls are made from wire livestock fencing bent over the top of wood framing and covered with plastic and insulation.

The huts were created by Erik de Buhr, a 31-year-old Eugene designer and builder of small houses for what he calls “community village living.”

He builds the floors, walls and other hut components at his shop on Grant Street, next to Westside Apostolic Church.

The parts are taken to vehicle camping sites and assembled by volunteers.

The first huts seem to be performing well, though de Buhr lengthened the structures by two feet so they would have a larger covered front porch.

“This is still beta testing” he said.