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Opportunity Village Brings In Expertise

Architect Mark Lakeman
Architect Mark Lakeman

People who are homeless need a legal place to sleep — and cities benefit from providing that space. That’s the premise of Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE), which is proposing a community similar to those in Portland and Seattle.

Portland architect Mark Lakeman will speak at an OVE event at 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 14, at the new Unitarian Universalist Church, 1685 W 13th Ave. Lakeman’s City Repair Project, a nonprofit that works to transform urban spaces based on artistic and ecological principles, was influential in the creation of Dignity Village, the Portland homeless community.

Andrew Heben, an urban planner and designer on the steering committee for OVE, says there’s a trend right now of cities coping with homelessness by helping transition homeless people from existing tent cities to villages. Heben says cities are starting to recognize that evicting homeless people doesn’t adequately address the problem of homelessness. “They’ll be evicted from one site and they’ll move to another site,” he says. “Finally the city realizes that the problem’s not going to go away, and they give them a piece of land.”

The OVE steering committee proposed a site near 13th and Chambers that fits a list of criteria identified in the early planning stages, Heben says. Among other criteria, it’s close to bus and bike transportation and surrounded by institutions like the Unitarian Universalist Church, which could help provide support. Heben says Portland’s Dignity Village faces challenges due to its remote location, and moving every three months as the Seattle village does also creates difficulties. The committee is still interested in other suggestions that would meet its criteria for a successful site.

Heben says it’s been frustrating to hear the proposed village referred to as a camp and compared to the Occupy camps that hosted a large homeless population last fall. “The Occupy Eugene camp was pretty anarchistic,” he says. “They couldn’t exclude anyone from living there.” Creating a community with community agreements, he says, means that people who can’t abide by drug, alcohol and violence-free principles wouldn’t be allowed to stay. Those who can follow those rules could be connected to resources that could help them transition out of homelessness. 

See a video featuring Mark Lakeman on the EW blog