As a teacher, I've had the joy of designing student-led projects for 20 years, and one of them stands out for me for its depth. I asked 7th grade students to think and talk about the concept of HOME. We spent time researching civilizations around the world and asking the questions: why do people stay in areas even when there are regular natural disasters? Why do people hesitate to leave an area even though war surrounds them? What is the definition of home? We studied Maslow's hierarchy of needs and held Socratic Seminars about the plight of unsheltered people in our own neighborhoods in Salem.
This project has come forward in my mind after listening in on a public county hearing about a place called Safe Camp, a temporary shelter of tent sites and micro shelters on the property of First Congregational United Church of Christ on West Hills Road in Corvallis, OR. If you aren't familiar with this camp, a little research will yield answers to your questions. What I
write today is in response to the hearing last night and the idea of HOME more than it is about the camp itself. In a nutshell, Safe Camp is a planned space for a limited number of tents/campers with group agreements and coordinated social services. Portable toilets, garbage service, and an outdoor kitchen are provided by the church, as well as paid staff to manage the camp. Safe Camp has successfully transitioned 10 individuals to permanent housing over the last 12 months.
At last night's meeting (which included hours of testimony), several individuals from the West Hills Neighborhood Association spoke out in opposition of Safe Camp. Repeatedly, I heard phrases like: "You don't know what it's like to live in this neighborhood with these volatile people next door," "I'm exhausted and don't feel safe in my own home," "This isn't a place that I want to live anymore (because Safe Camp is here)." I heard fear, helplessness and even some recognition of the housing crisis in our area. I also heard loud and clear: "we don't want this camp here in our neighborhood."
As a downtown resident, smack in the heart of Corvallis, I can say with fervor: Yes. There are days I agree with the statement, "This isn't a place I want to live anymore." I walk out my apartment door and am confronted with the fact that there are a multitude of people who need help. It's impossible to walk on without noticing and it's taken me 5 years to get more comfortable with the fact that I cannot help everyone; to live with that desire to help, without being able to 'fix' the 'problem'. I have lived in my own house before too, and spent decades working to make it a place in which I wanted to live. Had I not had the experience of divorce, loss of security, and loss of healthcare, I might think differently than I do now.
Here is what I want to say to that statement: "This isn't a place I want to live anymore." This place of feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, and exhausted in our own homes exists. It's where we all live. We live in a world of deep inequity. It's just the truth of our existence. While I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot help everyone or fix things, every day I remind myself of the fact that I have shelter and many do not. I also ask, who is trying to balance the inequity? Due to this inequity, structures of government and even neighborhoods will need to make changes.
Either changes will be made to improve the inequity or individuals will continue turning a blind eye to the multitude of people who are unable to have their most fundamental needs met (as Maslow pointed out, this is not a situation that can last). The more people there are working toward balancing the inequity, the more people there will be who can contribute to our community.
HOME is a concept I've spent the past 15 years thinking about. I don't know everything about it, but I have learned that my neighbors are more diverse now than ever before. While there are days I am so frustrated by my downtown neighborhood that I actively look for a different place to live, I have learned to confront that frustration and look for ways to help balance the inequity around me.