Minister To The Homeless

Here is an article about the homeless in Portland and a pastor in Eugene.


‘We can’t walk down the streets’: Old Town residents fear for their safety as city gives update on 90-day reset plan

Blair Best – Yesterday 3:55

Old Town leaders report mixed results after 90-day ‘reset’ plan

90-day effort to rebuild and reopen Old Town came to an end this week.

Protected by the gates of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, city officials along with the Old Town Community Association gave an update on where the neighborhood now stands.

About two dozen people attended the press conference Monday morning, including several long-time Old Town residents concerned about neighborhood safety.

“We have made some critical decisions to get us started and now we must stay the course improving the process and work,” said Jessie Burke, chair of the Old Town Community Association and co-owner of the Society Hotel.

RELATED: ‘It simply became too unsafe’: Old Town homeless village closing this month after increased gun violence downtown

In March, Burke and city officials announced a 90-day reset plan for Old Town with the goal to reduce crime, remove graffiti, and improve overall safety.

Since then, more than 18,000 square feet of graffiti has been removed and permanent trash crews are dedicated to cleaning up the area.  

“The Old Town neighborhood has been disproportionately affected by the crisis’ that are impacting Portland today,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

As Eugene site for unhoused continues to grow, so does hope

By Brian Bull (KLCC)

June 12, 2022 5 a.m.

Elizabeth Deffenbaugh, near her garden space at Everyone Village.
Elizabeth Deffenbaugh, near her garden space at Everyone Village.Brian Bull / KLCC

What will eventually be Eugene’s largest transitional shelter site is roughly halfway completed. Everyone Village in west Eugene is aiming to provide 100 spaces on its acreage, and give residents a safe and secure environment.

Among those residents is Elizabeth Deffenbaugh. 33. She wanted off the cold, damp streets of Eugene. Unable to meet renter qualifications and contending with disabilities and PTSD, she spent several years living in a tent near a dog park.

“It’s just kind of been an ongoing issue in my life since childhood,” she told KLCC. “I grew up in foster care and ran away from that, and just kind of traveled around with hippies so didn’t really have a home — a stable home — ever.”

On top of that, Deffenbaugh said she often felt harassed by Eugene city workers and police, who would force her to relocate at times, and ticket her if she didn’t comply fast enough.

“Under the guise of checking up on you and making sure you’re safe. Just intimidation, basically.”

In February, Deffenbaugh escaped that chaotic existence on the streets. She’s now at Everyone Village, which opened its 3.5 acre site last October. At last check, more than 40 residents live here, in shelters such as RVs, pallet houses and Conestoga huts.

Everyone Village lead Gabe Piechowicz esplains how the acreage will be further developed for residents.
Everyone Village lead Gabe Piechowicz esplains how the acreage will be further developed for residents.Brian Bull / KLCC

Gabe Piechowicz is the village leader. He said residents go through an application process and must abide by community rules. This includes a checkpoint between the village and the main entrance, and no substances beyond cannabis and tobacco.

“If someone comes up just requesting to see someone inside, we don’t confirm or deny that anyone does live here. We take messages, and we really try to protect our villagers, because some of them have lots of safety concerns.”

Piechowicz — a Christian pastor with Everyone Church — also leads spiritual services. He said he’s happy to help everyone in their journeys, regardless of faith or belief system.

“It’s so individual, just like any human story,” he said. “And so what we’re pioneering here is, developing natural, relational interviewing with folks as they move in to hear where they’ve been, where they’d like to go, what their goals and dreams are, and then building a plan so that they can achieve those.”

And so each villager essentially has their own unique timeline in regards to learning and preparing for off-site residence and employment, Piechowicz added.

The exterior front of Everyone Village, in west Eugene.
The exterior front of Everyone Village, in west Eugene.Brian Bull / KLCC


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Local officials have supported Everyone Village’s development. Kelly McIver, spokesperson for the City of Eugene’s Unhoused Response, said the city has invested $170,000 on site development funding, with an additional commitment of $364,000 per year in operating expenses. He said besides Piechowicz’s enthusiasm, the innovative model of Everyone Village has drawn support from businesses and community partners, including the Rexius Family who donated the acreage.

This adds on to a number of other developed sites for the unhoused across Eugene, run by a variety of organizations including St. Vincent de Paul and the Eugene Mission, among others.

“Which is a really good thing, we want to have diversity in the kinds of things that are offered to folks,” said McIver. “Because trying to address the issue of homelessness, is definitely not a one size fits all kind of issue.”

Recently, 14 new residents came to Everyone Village after the city broke up a large homeless encampment in Washington-Jefferson Park in March. Some homeless advocates groused at the monitored checkpoint and restrictions, a criticism McIver acknowledged.

“Sometimes there is pushback from folks who believe that people should be able to have guests in, and to be able to socialize in the place that they’re living.

“We’re trying to move folks from an unstructured environment where they have essentially been at the mercy of the world out there, where they’ve had very little in the way of boundaries or protection.”

One person who appreciates that security is Toni, a 56-year-old mom from Arizona. At the request of Everyone Village, KLCC is only identifying her by her nickname, to protect her privacy and safety.

“I could go any direction I want to now where before I had to work on surviving,” she said. “Y’know, I can actually dream and achieve dreams now where before it was like, ‘That’ll never happen.’”

Toni said every day on the streets felt like climbing Mount Everest. But in her warm, dry, pallet shelter with access to cannabis and spiritual gatherings, she’s able to focus more on art and less on survival and loneliness.

“They’re working together to make it a family, and it’s working. We’re learning how to be normal people.”

There’s still about four dozen more sites to put into Everyone Village, but work continues to make it a transformative space. In a section set aside for her garden, Deffenbaugh recently watched her vegetables grow. She also keeps watch over a family of killdeer that have built a nest nearby.

“Yeah, we’ve had cats chasing the killdeer. And then I’ve also been trying to keep people at least 20 feet away from them because they are a protected species of migratory bird.”

Deffenbaugh wants to find long-term housing soon, and possibly start an at-home business. For now, she feels safe at Everyone Village, and is appreciating her own patch of peace here.

“I use this as my quiet zone. I don’t allow negativity in here. Only positive thoughts and talk, ‘cause it’s better for the people and plants that way.”

Meanwhile, the City of Eugene continues to develop other strategies to address homelessness. A recent Chamber of Commerce report found over 3,100 people in Lane County were unhoused on Aug. 21, 2021, and only 42 were moved into housing that same month.

EUGENE, Ore. – A Eugene pastor is blending service and ministry in hopes of addressing the city’s daunting homeless crisis.

Gabe Piechowicz, better known to some in the community as Pastor Gabe, is not like most religious leaders. The former logger of nearly 20 years put down the ax in favor of the cross when he realized something in his life was missing.

“I grew up with zero religious or faith experience, exposure or interest,” Piechowicz said.

But in his thirties, he pursued religion, started attending church, and eventually became a graduate of Bushnell University in 2019 with a degree in pastoral Christian ministry. He interned at Westside Christian Church on Chambers Street and eventually became the pastor who oversaw its closure.

“[The church] had come to a season – as all organizations and churches do – where it was time for the doors to close now. Nothing lasts forever,” Piechowicz said.

But before the church closed, Pastor Gabe let some members of the unhoused community sleep on the property. He even started inviting others to sleep on the porch to stay out of the rain.

“That kind of led to an explosion of interest from the unhoused population. And before we knew it, it was like an I-5 rest stop,” Piechowicz said.

Once the group became too large, Piechowicz started working with Eugene Police and an agreement was reached. A pilot program allowed seven people to stay on the porch in exchange for community service in the surrounding neighborhood. The group met every Saturday, cleaning store fronts, picking up trash, and working together with businesses. In response to the effort, the businesses supplied landscape equipment and portable bathrooms for the church porch.

However, the church eventually closed, and the homeless moved to city-owned microsites. But for Pastor Gabe, the curtain on Eugene’s homeless crisis had been pulled back, and he wanted to do more.

He used some of the proceeds from the sale of the church to start Everyone Church in April, which places service to the unhoused at the center of its mission.

“Our key DNA is that we want to be fundamentally different than the traditional church,” Piechowicz said. “We’re not centered around the Sunday corporate worship experience. We’re centered around being the hands and feet of God in the community…. I feel we’ve been called to the work in the homelessness crisis in our community.”

To Pastor Gabe, the Sunday service happens in the streets, on any day of the week. The church does have office space in west Eugene, but it’s relatively small, and some of it is used to build tiny homes in partnership with another group – Carry it Forward.

Piechowicz said eventually he plans to grow the church to include more activities like bible study, a sober recovery program and ‘parties’ where members of the church can gather together for an afternoon of fun.

But for now, his focus is walking the streets, meeting the homeless where they live. On a Thursday morning in early September, Piechowicz was walking along Stewart Road in west Eugene. He acts as an unofficial liaison between homeless campers and the city and businesses that are tired of the impact the homeless have on them.

“We’re trying to get in front of the RV camping situation in West Eugene. It’s very challenging,” Piechowicz said while standing in front of a row of RVs.

Piechowicz said the city reached a short-term deal with the RV campers in the area, allowing them to stay if they sign a contract with certain requirements. There are ground rules, like no drug and alcohol use. Sanitation services are provided to keep things clean.

“As you guys know, we got the hypersensitive situation with the businesses. They are concerned about the car – kind of how it’s parked perpendicular to the curb,” he told a couple of campers who parked their vehicle protruding out into the street.

The campers readily agreed to fix the problem after Piechowicz brought it up. Further down the street, he told another man who had set up camp that he needed to leave. The deal with the city only allows for a limited number of RVs and no tent camping. The man agreed to move along.

Piechowicz uses a light and friendly touch with the campers, and often uses humor to diffuse tense situations.

“There’s just so much pressure. It’s like it needs to be released or the whole system is going to blow up right, just like a steam pipe system,” Piechowicz said.

Piechowicz said solving Eugene’s homeless crisis will be a community effort, and it won’t happen with his church alone.

“This is Eugene’s effort. What we’re doing is bringing everybody on the same page and creating through some sort of weird, humble reality and ability for everybody to work together in a very synergistic way. And it’s messy and hard, but we’re getting better at it,” Piechowicz said.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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