Almost 4 years ago, Opportunity Village was established in Eugene. It’s a community of tiny houses for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The idea is to give people safe shelter as they transition to permanent housing. But there’s not enough affordable housing to serve the need, so a new village is in the works.
Alice Gentry moved into a small bungalow at Opportunity Village about 6 months ago.
Before that, the 66-year-old and her dog were living in her car. She couldn’t afford to pay rent with her social security income. Gentry says living on the street, as an older woman, was frightening.
Gentry: “You’re out there parked on the street someplace and there’s people coming by. It’s scary, really, to be honest with you. If I hadn’t had the dog there’s been a couple times, I’m sure, something would have happened because she scared them off.”
Gentry’s 64-square foot bungalow doesn’t have a bathroom or kitchen. It doesn’t even have electricity. The 30 village residents share 2 bathrooms, a common kitchen and a yurt that has computers, places to charge your phone and hang out. The Village is on a city-owned, gated lot. While Gentry is grateful for the safety of Opportunity Village, she yearns for the future when she’ll have a larger tiny house, at Emerald Village.
Gentry: “Having a place of our own where we can just be ourselves and I can cook when I feel like it and I don’t have to wait for everybody else to get out of the way and I don’t have to clean up somebody else’s mess before I do what I want to do, is an exciting idea. Being able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, without having to make a 40 mile trip. [laughs] It’s just cold. It’s nasty. Who wants to go out in the rain?”
Emerald Village is still under construction, with the goal of opening around Labor Day. Dan Bryant is Executive Director of Square One, a non-profit which oversees Opportunity Village (OVE). He says when they first established OVE, which came out of the Occupy movement, the idea was to give homeless people a temporary place to live while they sought a permanent home. The dilemma is that there’s just not enough affordable housing.
Bryant: “It was only when we discovered there wasn’t permanent housing for them to move into that we decided we needed to get into that game to create a new model of permanent housing that truly was affordable. So that’s why we’re building our next project.”
Emerald Village will be in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. Rent will be $250 to $350 a month for each 150 square foot house. Bryant says folks here at OVE are employed or live on fixed incomes. They just don’t have enough money for a conventional apartment.
Bryant: “I have a couple people who have up to $1,500 of monthly income but they have to have 3 times monthly rent and if monthly rent starts at 600 if you don’t have at least 1800 of monthly income there’s no one that will rent to you.”
Bryant says Emerald Village is not the solution for everyone who is homeless. It’s for those who are able to function in society.
Bryant: “They’re paying part of their own way. They share in the chores. They help each other out. So it’s a self-governed village to give people a chance to do for themselves if they just have a decent place to live.”
Bryant hopes projects like this can free up social service resources for the homeless people who have bigger challenges like mental illness and drug addiction.
Opportunity Village resident Paul Miller used to have problems with drugs and alcohol. He’s since cleaned up his act and is hoping to help others do the same. He’s happy to have a home, finally.
Miller: “One of the first things that I noticed and most people I think notice about coming here is a sense of relief. And everybody takes a certain amount of time, based on their background and where they’re coming from, to adjust to not living either on the streets or at the mission.”
The Mission is the only nightly shelter in Eugene for single adults. Miller plans to move to Emerald Village once it’s built. Dan Bryant says the project is mostly funded by contributions from private citizens.
Bryant: “Individuals who’ve written us checks for $25,000 to pay for a house to those who’ve written a check for $5 a month to help pay the utility fees here at Opportunity Village and everything in between. Just a lot of folk coming together to make it all possible.”
Since Eugene’s Opportunity Village started, other cities have taken notice. There are tiny house villages now in Portland, Seattle, Austin, Texas. Another is in the works now in Denver, Colorado.