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Director Of Eugene Mission Wants Out Of A Job

The largest mental health facility in Lane County isn’t a hospital. It’s the county’s only nightly shelter for homeless folks. That’s according to Eugene Mission Executive Director Jack Tripp. Earlier this month, he took county leaders on a tour of the mission.

Tripp: “Hey Marshall, what’s for dinner?”
We’re in the dining room of the men’s section of the mission.
Tripp: “So we crank out 700 meals a day here. Frankly, the meals were not the greatest until, when did Marshall start? A year and a half ago. So, I realized that part of wellness is of course food. How much better do you feel when you get a good meal in you? I mean a really good meal.”

Besides meals, the mission provides clean clothing, optional prayer services and a place to sleep. It’s a non-profit, christian organization and it’s the only nightly homeless shelter in Lane County. Men and women have separate quarters and there’s also a section for women and their children.
Jack Tripp takes us upstairs to the men’s dorm.
Tripp: “So this is one of three dorms…”

The community is looking the wrong way at this. It's almost like they're looking at ways to ensure people can continue camping and continue living on the streets.

In this long room, there are 70 bunk beds covered with colorful, handmade quilts. Tripp says the mission has 500 beds total including. But he says there’s not enough staff for the mission to be at capacity. Tripp says it’s about safety—there are violent people here. If there was more funding, they could hire more staff.
Tripp: “We want this to be safe for our guests. So we need twice the number of guess supervisors at night, ie the extra 200 grand. And if we did that then we would aggressively go out to the homeless community and say, hey we got plenty of beds, come on in, lets make this happen. But we’re just capped right now because of that. So it’s a safety issue.”
Tripp says many guests who have mental illness find it impossible to stay in the dorm, even though it’s safe, it can be noisy and overwhelming to be in a room with dozens of men.  
Tripp says White Bird used to offer mental and physical health care here but stopped because of funding.
Lane County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky points out that the county provides mental health services. Maybe there could be collaboration.
Mokrohisky: “There’s got to be a holistic approach, ultimately, to solve the problem and I think the same thing is happening on the social service and community based organization front.”
County officials seem intrigued by the idea of working together. But it’s unclear how that will unfold.
The Mission has an 18-month program called Life Change. Tripp says it successfully gets homeless people into housing and jobs. While the Mission offers prayer services, they’re not required for participants. Tripp says sometimes, just being there to talk to helps.
Tripp: “Have dinner with these folks. Go and actually talk to them and start a relationship. That’s how people change.”
Tripp says the community’s Band-Aid approach to helping the homeless is not working.
Tripp: “The community’s looking the wrong way at this. It’s almost like they’re looking at ways to ensure that people can continue camping and continue living on the streets and I’m just the opposite and it comes from pure love. I don’t want my relatives camping on the streets in freezing cold weather and I don’t want them out doing this kind of horrible stuff that is not good for them. So let’s build the housing and get them in there and provide the case management.”
Tripp says the mission has property where an apartment complex could be built for a housing first program. He says the only way it will be effective is if there is on-site support. Tripp says it’s possible.
Tripp: “I want to lose this job. I don’t want the Eugene Mission to exist. Because I’m praying the community, we can work together so there can be a better solution to somebody than staying in a shelter for a short period of time. And although we call ourselves a wellness center because we’re getting people well we still have this dorm setting which is not good for anybody.”
Tripp says he can’t come up to this dorm when the men are settling down to sleep anymore. There’s too much sadness here.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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