The temperature wasn’t over 40 degrees when I pulled up to Opportunity Village Eugene a couple of weeks ago to take some photographs of the new bungalow that was being built, courtesy of Lane Professional Firefighters 851 (LPFF 851). Before I got out of my car, I tried to decide if I should put my neck warmer on or not. I didn’t want to be cold. I finally decided to leave it in the car. I shouldn’t be here too long anyhow, I thought.
I grabbed my camera, locked my car and headed through the chain link gait towards the small office just on the other side of the fencing. There was a group of people chatting. A young girl sitting on the office steps noticed me and said hello. I would later learn her name was Eve.
I told Eve I was here to meet and speak with the LPFF about their build. “They’re already done” she replied. I couldn’t help my disappointment for missing them. I guess I had figured it would take them a little longer than 4 hours. Eve and I spoke for a little bit. I told her I was with Eugene Daily News and that I was there to do a follow up story that I had written on Sunday. This is when her eyes lit up and a smile crossed her face. The bungalow they built today would be for her and EJ.
There were maybe 8 of us standing around waiting for our tour to begin. I hadn’t expected a tour, but was glad they would take time for us and show us around. They first pointed out the smoking area. The only place someone could smoke was just inside the fence by the office. Next we headed to the kitchen. It really was an outside makeshift covered area with a hot plate, some pots and pans hanging from the “rafters’. To the right was a pantry. Some of the food inside was community food, others were labeled with names. The food is purchased with SNAP cards.
“It will be nice to be able to shut our door and lock it and not worry about our belongings being stolen”
Next we headed to the community room. A large Quonset hut. Inside were a few long banquet style tables. There was a wood stove, the area’s only heat source. Along the walls was a coffee pot, cream and sugar. There was a string of Christmas lights strung for the whole room. Plans to acquire more lighting is planned. This room is a good place to have meals together and to visit.
Next we were given a tour of the newly built restrooms, shower and laundry room. The building was still being worked on and had yet received the washer and dryer. Eve and EJ were excited for this building, they wouldn’t have to go to the laundry mat anymore.
We headed across the lot to the newly built shelter that would become Eve and EJ’s temporary home as soon as the inspection was complete. Theirs was one of the largest on the lot at 8 x 10. It has a small loft above to store their belongings. The shelter consisted of two window’s and 4 walls, the door had not arrived yet. The shelter is nothing elaborate by any means, but a means for them to get off the streets. The shelter was too small for the 10 of us to stand inside the cramped shelter so I stepped out and listened as EJ talked a little about their lives. I want to point out that there is no electricity or heat wired to the bungalow’s. It is a roof over their heads.
He talked about abuse in California and the two of them decided they needed to get away from that and headed north. They have been here in Eugene since July.
“This will give us an address, a new beginning. We can wash our clothes and not smell any more” This offers us a new beginning”. EJ’s eyes lit up as he talked about his past as well as his future. They both have so much hope now.
Eve is expecting a baby in July. They are in their early and mid 20’s. A hard life so far. We stepped out of the shelter and to the nearby tent. This is where the two have been living. I tried to imagine myself in their shoes, living their lives. Picturing myself crawling into the tiny tent each night.
EJ was elated he would be able to stand up inside his shelter to put his clothes on. That small ability is something we may take for granted and not even think about in our daily lives.
The process took about 5 weeks from the time they completed the application and passed the back ground check to the time they were accepted as residence at Opportunity Village and the new shelter was built. The shelter had not yet been painted the day I went. The threat of rain was in the air but the LPFF will return with paint brushes and Fire Department red paint.
We toured the rest of the property, looking at the different shelters. There is a mixture of conestoga huts and 8 x 8 and 8 x 10 pre fabricated bungalows made by Backyard Bungalows. Decorations adorned the outside of the shelters by the individual residents. Planters were bare of the summer vegetable gardens.
Eve and I walked back to the office together. She seemed a little tired and cold, I feeling guilty for being cold for only a short time. I shook her hand and congratulated her, wishing her and EJ well. I am excited for them. I am worried about them as well. With a baby coming in a few short months, I couldn’t help but wonder; will they be on their own by then? Will EJ find work. He is so eager to support his family and provide for them now. He can get a job and a license now that he has an address. It was hard for him to hide his elation at the thought of it.
I thought of them in the snow storm this past week, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were warm enough in their little shelter. I can’t imagine what it might feel like to be them.