I am a preacher by trade. So why am I directing an innovative non-profit doing tiny housing? I like to tell folk that I discovered the Gospel of Oz: "There is no place like home. There is no place like home. There is no place like home." Every night of the year over half a million people in this country have no place to call home. Over one million people are evicted from their home each year simply because they cannot afford their rent. In the heart of Eugene, where the historic congregation I serve resides, homelessness has become an acute crisis. With two and a half out of every 1000 people in our community unsheltered, we have the highest rate of unsheltered homeless out of any community in the country that is not in California, Florida, Hawaii or Georgia.
It is common for over 400 people to come to a free breakfast we serve every Sunday morning. While we do not permit camping on our property, typically we see 8 to 10 people sleeping most nights around the building in addition to the three we host in approved units for "car camping". On nights below 30 degrees, we provide shelter for 80 to 90 people in our warming center and for the last three weeks of the school year we host the community's Interfaith Family Shelter for 8 to 10 families. On top of that, we serve over 2,000 individuals in our "Helping Hands" clothing ministry and a like number of walk-ins in our "Good Samaritan" ministry. All told that adds up to more than 20,000 visits by people in need, the vast majority who are homeless.
There is an old story of a village on a river. One day someone noticed a baby floating down the river. A rescue operation was quickly organized. Soon another baby came floating by. Then another. Before long, everyone in the village was devoted to pulling babies out of the river. Finally one person leaves the rescue effort to head up stream. "Where are you going?" ask the others. "We need you here!" "I am going upstream," the deserter says, "to stop whoever is throwing the babies in the river!"
For the past 26 years, I have been pulling people out of the river. The work at SquareOne is up stream. Our mission is to keep people from falling back into the river. When you have no place to call home, everything else becomes an enormous obstacle. Where do you keep your belongings? How do you maintain your hygiene? Where do you go when you are sick? How do you save any money when every day is a struggle for survival?
It is hard to keep your head above water when even the smallest difficulty can be the one that pulls you under. Lowering the cost of housing is not the solution for everyone in need of shelter. But for a significant number of those who are unhoused or inadequately housed and who have modest income, it can be a life saver. Simply because one is poor should not mean that one must live in poor housing. Our mission is to give people with the most modest means the dignity, the responsibility and the benefit of having a place to call home. When you live on the edges of society, a tiny home is a place to start at “square one” in building a healthy life as a constructive member of your community. Through our work at SquareOne Villages, people who had previously been without housing are discovering there is no place like a home of their own. Your support makes this critical work possible.