Many of our members have experienced homelessness throughout their lives, and this is an issue that is very important to them and has been an ongoing discussion for several years. The Gathering Place board, members and staff have worked together on solutions for this issue in our county and this project is an effort to take a lead to combat this problem for our community.
Building a Conestoga Hut, a “micro-shelter” that provides a person with roughly sixty square feet of lockable, dry, and safe space to temporarily live while working to improve their life situation. It uses minimal materials to keep cost down per shelter while providing stability to its user. If a Hut is abused or damaged, its design enables it to be disassembled, refurbished, and put back together to help another person in need, all with ease. These are not permanent structures and can be easily moved to other sites and look nice in a community space such as a parking lot.
The Gathering Place plans to build a prototype model at 5 North Congress, (parking lot) to inform our community and other stakeholders on solutions to the homeless issue in our city and surrounding county. We will also be constructing a fence lower than 6ft to gate in our parking lot further and to provide safety for those we rent to and for our Conestoga Hut. We have been given a variance by the BZA of the City of Athens for this project that is supported by many city officials and other community members.
- This concept was started by “Community Shelters”, a nonprofit in Eugene, Oregon that developed to address the homeless issue in the Pacific region. This is a strategy that has been quite successful for communities in Oregon and California and Conestoga shelter communities have been supported by city/county officials, civic and mental health/recovery organizations, churches and businesses who allow them to be placed in parking lots around the city.
- Our parking lot location was specifically chosen for possibility of a future site of a Conestoga Hut community, when we no longer will be renting out any community parking spots and are the idea location with shower, kitchen and restroom facilities and a 24- hour staff possibility and to bring services and resources to the homeless, helping to find permanent supportive housing. These shelters are meant to be temporary dwellings for individuals experiencing homelessness, evidence-based to reduce an individual’s time being homeless, as they provide more safety, security and comfort for an individual to connect with services with goals of permanent housing and other needed health and mental health/recovery services.
- These structures are meant to be sober living sites.
- Homelessness is a huge issue in our community, especially in light of not enough affordable housing stock available for individuals who may not currently have income or be involved with services that can help them obtain that resource.
- Even when an individual obtains a HUD voucher for subsidized housing, there is not enough housing stock that meets the requirements of cost using the voucher.
- Many are sleeping in tents hidden around our city without appropriate hygiene facilities in which to use the restroom, wash hands, or shower, or tents are not providing enough shelter and warmth in the winter months. This also causes undue public health concerns when human waste and other trash waste are littered around the city.
- This shelter is to be used as a Prototype project in order for our community members, city and county officials, health and wellness agencies, recovery agencies, and area churches and nonprofits to learn more about the possibilities of Conestoga Hut communities and how they can change lives and reach our community members in need, with shelter and other needed services.
- The city of Athens only has one privately run homeless shelter, and there are far too few beds to serve all of our community members who are homeless.