The four Safe Spots managed by Community Supported Shelters are clustered within a mile of each other around railroad tracks at the edges of the Trainsong and Whitaker neighborhoods in Eugene. The Safe Spot "experiment" to provide temporary safe shelter for homeless people has been going on for three-and-a-half years now and has been so successful that the City of Eugene has extended what it calls the "rest stop" program and even taken initial steps toward establishing rest stops in all eight wards of the city.
But as much as the overall program is an experiment in addressing Eugene's vexing homeless problem, each camp
is its own experiment in community building. Both Safe Spot residents and CSS managers understand that some sense of community is essential to provide the safety and stability necessary for the camps to succeed.
"We are trying to create at least a form of community," says William Chapple, 43, recently named coordinator at the Expressway camp, the youngest of the camps and the one with the most troubled history.
"I believe the reason we function so well is that we actually pay attention to each other," says Jeremy Linville, 41, peacekeeper at the Chambers camp. "It's not like when we had just come in: I'm doing my thing, you're doing your thing, she's over there doing her thing. When we walk through the gate people actually notice what's going on with other people."
William and Jeremy are among the volunteer on-site managers who are critical to the functioning of the camps. Those positions have been part of the Safe Spot plan since its inception, to both give residents an important role in their camp communities and to prevent the CSS staff from being spread too thin.
Their resumes would frighten some people: ex-cons, recovering meth addicts and alcoholics, college drop-outs and drifters. Most have run into sometimes self-constructed obstacles that have diverted their lives into a tail-spin that sent them crashing into homelessness. But now, they have emerged as leaders, with the roles of coordinators, mediators (also called peace-keepers and problem-solvers), groundskeepers or maintenance managers, kitchen managers, and transportation managers. Currently, the camps have between three and six on-site managers.