Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Community Supported Shelters - the latest for the homeless

Community Supported Shelters in Eugene, Oregon

GUEST BLOG: Tod Schneider is an old friend and has posted blogs here on CPTED in schools. Since then we have posted many blogs on homeless issues such as homeless reduction and tactical urbanism in Portland. Here, Tod shares his latest innovative work on homeless shelters. 

Tod Schneider, Executive Director, Community Homeless Shelters

Most homeless camps have a bad rap for good reasons: they’re poorly designed, if designed at all; they’re under-funded if they’re funded at all; they’re managed by people unequipped to manage at all; and they’re sheltering primarily people who are wrestling with severe life crises. 

Community Supported Shelters is different. We have an approach that works. We shelter people with few resources who would like help pulling their lives back together. Our effectiveness is reflected in the widespread support we receive from the homeless population, the advocate community, the police, and the local government. 

Although NIMBY continues to be a challenge, we even have widespread support from the general public, reflected in the $350,000 in private donations we received last year. Here are the key ingredients that work for us: 

The homeless have a place for their animal friends

  • The Conestoga Hut. It looks decent, which is important if you don’t want to offend the neighbors, as well as if you want to feel happy coming home at the end of the day. The raw materials cost under $1500. It can be built in a matter of hours. We sell hundreds of hut manuals and templates every month to motivated advocates handy with tools. The hut is attractive, well insulated and lockable. Residents feel safe locking their stuff up so they can go live their lives during the day. 
  • Camps. We cluster the huts into camps. Camps include port-a-potties, trash service, recycling, kitchen sheds, wood-heated commons sheds, solar recharging stations for cell phones, and 6 to 20 huts. Gardens usually sprout up as well. The camps are fenced and locked. Many homeless camps consist of tents that can’t be locked, in clusters that can’t be protected. This allows the severely disturbed, intoxicated, or dangerous homeless to terrorize everyone else. Camps need securable huts and fences, just like the housed need lockable doors and solid walls. 
  • Communities. Equally essential is how a camp is managed. Everyone we welcome is screened, but not in the usual way. We’re not doing background checks. We don’t bar people with criminal convictions or bad credit histories. Our applicants mostly self-screen. We explain that they are applying to be part of a mutually supportive community. They have up to a year of free rent, mutual support, staff support recovering from trauma, and navigation assistance in connecting with essential services as part of their life-improvement plans. 

Home should not be a street - photo Kate Harnedy

Many people start out needing help with basic needs: replacing lost I.D., lost teeth, and lost dignity, making supportive friends or finding a decent meal, getting used to people looking them in the eye, or calling them by name. 

Two out of three of our campers move on to better circumstances in less than a year. We started with one hut, next to a church, in a wary community. We added three camps over the next half dozen years, and support started to grow. In September 2020, the local government, having seen our effectiveness, came to us with enthusiasm, pulled out their checkbooks and funded five new camps. We’ll be sheltering 160 people in 8 camps by somewhere around Valentine’s Day. 

To learn more about CSS, visit our website, or email: