Gabe Piechowicz scans a 3.5-acre lot scattered with RVs and points to an area out in the open field.
“That’s where the Ferris wheel will go,” he jokes.
Jokes aside, no ideas are off the table for Eugene’s newest Safe Sleep site, Everyone Village. Co-directors Piechowicz and Heather Sielicki are taking an “integrated living” approach as they build the village by focusing on the needs and ideas of the people who live there.
Piechowicz is a pastor at Everyone Church, which is coupled with the village. A former logger, Piechowicz doesn’t hold Sunday service, but believes more in the “boots on the ground” model. The goal of the village isn’t just to provide a place to sleep for unhoused people, but to provide people a community and improve their situation.
On April 28, the Eugene City Council approved an ordinance to create more safe sleeping spaces for the unhoused population. The city has since approved five Safe Sleep sites, including the lot north of Dani Street where Everyone Village operates, which was donated by Rexius.
“It’s not like the people are coming without any skills, they are coming with an amazing amount of skills and histories and talents,” Sielicki says. “We’re trying to build a model that really responds to who is here and helps to reconnect people to the socio-economic ties they may have lost when they ended up on the streets.”
One resident, who took the pen name Scrapper, blogs on the Everyone Village website about the village and attitudes toward the homeless in Eugene. Scrapper writes that he left with a positive feeling after the first meeting with the co-directors.
“It was going to be the kind of place where I got to help decide what the rules were going to be in the first place,” the blog says.
Sielicki says Everyone Village is partnering with nearby businesses to employ residents. A warehouse adjacent to the parking lot acts as a facility for different programs and classes, including neuroplasticity classes, table mosaic classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. For the last two years, Sielicki has been building a garden in an old shipping container.
The village currently hosts 23 residents whose sleeping arrangements include RVs, Pallet shelters and micro shelters. Since RVs are so large, co-director Heather Sielicki says her focus has shifted to acquiring smaller dwellings to house a larger number of people.
The city allows up to 60 vehicles and 40 tents at each site, but Sielicki says residents can only live on the paved parts of the lot, which is only a quarter of the total space. The unpaved section of the property is a mix of grass, gravel and rock that is often wet during the rainy months of the year.
Limited space has created a waitlist of about 75 individuals for the village. Sielicki says the village prioritizes people from the previous homeless camps on 13th Avenue and Chambers Street — which the city closed on Jan. 18 — and Washington Jefferson Park, where the city banned new residents last April.
Applications for Everyone Village opened in October during what Sielicki calls their “soft opening.” The official contract between Everyone Village and the city started Feb. 1, but the city will be reimbursing startup and operational costs, such as paying staff, sanitation services and some utility expenses, according to Sielicki.
Lane County also partnered with the city to provide the initial round of shelters and site navigation services, but hasn’t worked with Everyone Village directly. Everyone Village hasn’t received as much support from Lane County Health and Human Services as they would’ve hoped, Sielicki says.
Sielicki says the site could use new shelters to house more people, and she had hoped they would receive more before winter hit. According to Lane County spokesperson Jason Davis, the county does intend to provide a second round of shelters.
“We’re close to being able to get those in,” Davis says. “It’s just a matter now of going through the rigamarole that it takes to get multiple levels of approval.”
According to Piechowicz, the village has had to rely on private builders to build shelters from scratch. He says he’s disappointed he hasn’t yet worked directly with the county, and that community projects like this are only as good as their “lowest point of effectiveness.”
“The county, by not working with a collaborative project like this, they are basically forcing that point down instead of helping us to lift it up, and that is affecting the most marginalized people in our community,” Piechowicz says. “We need to do better than that.”
Piechowicz says the site still has infrastructure needs like electricity. The main warehouse has electricity and currently provides the power for the village, but that power is already maxed out, according to Piechowicz. He says they need a separate source outside to power the entire site, which requires a $40,000 one-time electricity payment — one he hoped the county would be able to help with. Right now he’s waiting to start the project with the Eugene Water and Electric board, and he doesn’t know when they will get service.
So far, all the money for operational costs has come from in-kind contributions from individuals, businesses and neighborhood associations. Other groups, such as the Hope on Wheels program through nonprofit Carry it Forward, have donated RVs and shelters.
“We’re scrambling to get additional units, and we’re definitely thankful for the RVs, campers and trailers that have been donated to us from organizations like Carry it Forward because it gives people a place to be and they can enter into the community,” Sielicki says.
David Strahan, Hope on Wheels director, has led several RV restoration projects that now provide shelter for people at Everyone’s Village. One RV, which Strahan got from Rexius, went to Blue River after the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. It’s a 2007 hybrid RV with unfoldable beds and canopies on either side of the vehicle that provide extra space inside.
Now owned by Everyone Village, Strahan says he thinks the RV would be a great cooking and multi-use space.
“I support spots for low-income people to have their RVs, as long as they have sanitation and power,” Strahan says. “Living in an RV in Oregon sucks without power — it’s a very lonely existence, and it’s also detrimental to mental health.”
Originally, the co-directors had planned to be at full capacity by Jan. 31. Even if the process is moving slower than Sielicki and Piechowicz would have liked, they still have big plans, including a 30-foot dome outside for meetings. And they aren’t joking about that one.
“We’ve been talking about it for so long, and now we’re doing it and it’s really working. It’s really exciting, it just feels like the right time, the right place and the right people,” Sielicki says.
Everyone Village is at 3825 Janisse Street. To donate, find more information or apply for the site waitlist, visit EveryoneVillage.org.