A restoration of hope continues with police assistance

A restoration of hope continues with police assistance
Eugene Register Guard, May 2019

As a drizzle of rain fell from the sky, a group of a half-dozen men worked in tandem, erecting a small, arched structure on the grounds of First Church of Christ, Scientist at East 14th Avenue and Pearl Street.

Not much larger than a greenhouse — and with a somewhat similar shape — the Conestoga Hut is the 95th of its kind to be started and completed in less time it takes to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It’s possible many may live there in the months and years to come, but first up it’s a man beaming broadly with discernibly humble pride.

The man, a Eugene Community Court graduate, not only is living a drug-free life, he’s also exhibited a motivation so distinct, he won the respect of Eugene police. With other agencies — CAHOOTS, for example — the police department is funding his new home, the first time the agency has sponsored a hut placed on private land.

“This is what 21st century policing looks like,” explained Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner.

Beside other men on the force, Skinner moved in quickly to offer assistance every time a member of the Community Supported Shelters crew requested someone lend a hand.

Skinner doesn’t consider his participation — or the many other ways his department has chosen to show its support — extraordinary. It’s the very least he can do, besides, for those in the homeless community that many automatically assume have a history of criminal behavior.

“People see this as a policing issue,” said Skinner, his hands gesturing toward the house as he cited a list of other potentially contributing factors. “They see behaviors they believe as illegal but just because something looks criminal doesn’t mean it is.”

And educating people is something Skinner said he tries to do whenever he can. In fact, the presence of Skinner and other officers sends a message to those they serve and protect.

Others involved in the afternoon’s operations share the chief’s sentiment.

“What we do is less about the hut itself and more about the social parts,” said Charles Castle, construction program coordinator for Community Supported Shelters.

Castle has been in the position for about a year. Before that, he spent four years with Habitat for Humanity, so he’s seen first-hand many examples — the hut is merely a conduit for the life changes to come.

It was that very mindset that drove Fay and Eric de Buhr to take their first steps toward the original hut. The idea and home that followed weren’t born from the couple’s financial success but rather from the very same sort of struggle they endured.

“We didn’t set out to help the homeless — we never thought about House 95,” said an enthusiastic Fay, who explained how the huts just sort of happened.

But something occurred when they faced a hard reality in the midst of their own struggles. If what they dealt with — not even comparable really, Fay said — was so difficult for them, what must it be like for those who didn’t even have what the couple was fighting so hard to hold onto.

The idea had a major impact on Eugene as a whole, she said. And about 100 came out to watch as the first houses went up.

Originally, the building process would take about 3½ hours, but the builders have it down now to something of an art.

Nearly 100 homes in and counting, Castle proudly shared completion of the dwellings could be done in about two hours.

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